Living alone in so-called District 8, Washington’s poorest region, retired Mabel Harris, 72, did not see a vaccination start against Covid-19 in the United States. It was still December 14, and images of the first doses of the immunizer in the city were recorded 10 km from his home.
Inattentive to the news, he learned from a friend that, since last month, people of his age could be vaccinated in the eight districts of the American capital and, only on Tuesday (16), he went to the only medical center in his neighborhood to receive the first dose.
Although free, vaccination has added a new – and serious – contour to the social and racial inequality that plagues the United States.
Without a car, computer, or internet access at home, Harris took longer to make an appointment. “I don’t have a computer, I don’t know how to use any of this. I booked my appointment over the phone, and they had to take me to the hospital,” explains the retiree about the free transportation service offered by the city.
Harris is now among the 21% of residents aged 65 and over who have already received at least one dose of the vaccine in Washington’s poorest region – well below the 50% immunized population in District 3, the wealthiest in the city.
Despite being the hardest hit by the pandemic, poor neighborhoods – and with a majority of black residents – are the ones with the lowest rate of vaccinated people in the US capital, in a wide gap since the start of the immunization campaign.
With 92% of black inhabitants, district 8 had 94 appointments in the first week of vaccination, while district 3 and its 5% of black residents reached 2,465.
According to the District of Columbia Department of Health, where Washington is located, 30,800 residents age 65 and older had already taken at least one dose of the vaccine by February 14 — 36.8% of the city’s elderly. Most, however, live in wealthy neighborhoods, located in districts 1, 2 and 3, where up to 50% of people in this age group have already been vaccinated. In the poorest regions, which mainly comprise districts 5, 7 and 8, the percentage of immunized elderly people does not reach 28%.
The figures drew the attention of the Department of Health and the city hall, which try to reduce the differences with strategies ranging from more vaccination schedules available in poor regions to a door-to-door task force to warn residents that they are entitled to the immunizer .
Officials at Washington City Hall’s community affairs and relations and community services offices are being called “vaccine friends for the elderly” and have been touring District 8 personally to inform residents about how to register to receive the immunizer.
In addition, they offer services such as free transport to the vaccination sites – the one used by Harris – and snow removal from doors and sidewalks to facilitate circulation under temperatures that, this week, reached minus 7 ° C in the city.
The authorities’ effort is to ensure that the limited doses of vaccine are distributed more evenly, but the discrepancies are still stark, rooted in the systemic inequality of centuries in the country.
Since the start of the pandemic, Washington has recorded 39,300 cases of Covid-19 and 992 deaths —74% of the victims were black people, who represent 46% of the city’s population.
By the end of January, 17,520 of those who had received at least one dose of the vaccine in the city were white people, compared to 9,967 blacks.
Recent research shows that 60% of Americans want to receive the immunizer. Black people, however, historically represent the most skeptical minority in the United States when it comes to vaccines – only 42% say they are willing to take the first dose.
Vaccination appointments in the U.S. can be made over the phone, but there is a lot of complaints about congested lines or running out of available hours within minutes. In this way, those who can be agile in scheduling online, with access to computers or cell phones with good internet providers, as well as a car and flexible routine to get to the immunization site, have the advantage.
On the city hall website, there is a statement that “a modern browser – like Chrome, Safari, Edge or Firefox” – is needed to make the appointment. “Internet Explorer [um dos mais comuns] it won’t work “, warns the portal.
Harris says he has no idea what a browser is and celebrates having managed to schedule his appointment over the phone. But he had not yet heard of the door-to-door task force in district 8, nor did he know that the system was opening more vacancies in his neighborhood.
The lack of information among the elderly and the gap between poor, rich, white and black people in the immunization campaign are not restricted to Washington.
According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 6 out of 10 Americans aged 65 and older report not knowing where or when they can be vaccinated against Covid-19 – in the US, the schedule is set by each of the 50 states.
In the capital, 105,575 doses of vaccines were delivered by February 13, and 82% of them were administered.
The city’s mayor, Democrat Muriel Bowser, admits that the current demand for vaccines is “much greater than the supply we are receiving from the federal government”, despite the problems of logistics and inequality in distribution.
In the past few weeks, the city has quadrupled the number of attendants to make appointments over the phone – there are now 200 people online – and has opened almost 2,000 vacancies in the poorest districts.
In eight days, the number of vaccinees in District 8 increased from 1,258 to 1,650, but the rate is still well below the 7,511 people who have already received their first dose in affluent District 3 — nationally, the US has vaccinated just over 1 million people. people a day.
In the poorest region of Washington, in addition to the hospital where Harris received his dose, at least one supermarket and a church have been vaccinating residents.
A supermarket employee says that she has immunized up to 20 people a day, but she is not always able to reach that number.
Leftover vaccines, he explains, are applied to people who show up even without an appointment. They often come from other neighborhoods – because they have a car or can pay for Uber in a trip of almost 30 minutes and $ 30 (R $ 160) from the city center.