COVID-19: Federal efforts to provide vaccines to racial and ethnic groups
COVID-19: Federal efforts to provide vaccines to racial and ethnic groups

COVID-19: Federal efforts to provide vaccines to racial and ethnic groups

What GAO found

In February 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) each launched COVID-19 vaccine programs to supplement state and jurisdiction vaccination efforts. Through these three programs, the agencies took steps to provide COVID-19 vaccines to underserved and historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, such as by using population data on race and ethnicity in selecting vaccination sites.

CDC, HRSA and FEMA data – although limited in completeness – suggest that the agencies’ COVID-19 vaccine programs vaccinated different proportions of racial and ethnic groups. GAO’s analysis of data from the CDC’s retail pharmacy program, the largest of the programs, suggests that among those with identified race and ethnicity, 43 percent of those vaccinated through the program were from racial and ethnic groups other than non-Hispanic. white, pr. September 4, 2021. (See fig.)

Percentage of people vaccinated against COVID-19 through the CDC’s Retail Pharmacy Program by race and ethnicity, per September 4, 2021

The CDC exceeded its goal of administering at least 40 percent – the approximate percentage of the U.S. population made up of racial and ethnic groups, excluding non-Hispanic whites – of COVID-19 vaccines through its retail pharmacy program to individuals from those groups. However, comparisons between program vaccination data and U.S. population percentages suggest that some racial and ethnic groups, such as non-Hispanic blacks, represented a smaller proportion of individuals vaccinated through each of the three federal vaccine programs relative to their population size. For example, non-Hispanic blacks make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for about 9 percent of people vaccinated through the CDC’s retail pharmacy program with identified race and ethnicity, per capita. September 4, 2021. These results should be interpreted with caution due to the number of missing racial and ethnicity program data, which may explain some, or even all, the differences in comparisons.

Why GAO conducted this study

COVID-19 continues to have devastating effects on public health, severe economic consequences and has disproportionately affected some racial and ethnic groups. Ensuring that all racial and ethnic groups have reasonable access to the COVID-19 vaccine is essential to reduce serious COVID-19 health outcomes and save lives.

The CARES Act provides for the GAO to report on its ongoing oversight efforts in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes, among other things, the actions taken by the CDC, HRSA and FEMA through their programs to provide COVID-19 vaccines to underserved and historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and the extent to which these programs vaccinated different racial and ethnic groups.

GAO analyzed CDC, HRSA, and FEMA vaccine administration data through September 2021; interviewed Agency officials and reviewed the Agency’s documentation on COVID-19 vaccine programs and published literature on vaccine administration; interviewed health officials from four selected states and representatives from six selected stakeholder groups based on several criteria, such as states’ racial and ethnic population distribution; and compared the agencies’ vaccine administration data with the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau population.

GAO provided a draft of this report to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the CDC and HRSA and FEMA. HHS and FEMA provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as needed.

For more information contact Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or [email protected].


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