Vaccine programs with disproportionate wait times in communities of color could be deemed discriminatory, the Department of Health and Human Services said.
The HHS Office for Civil Rights released a guidance Wednesday for health-care providers and systems that get federal funding. These groups must “ensure fair, equitable access to vaccines” to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Affordable Care Act, the HHS said.
Race, color, national origin, and language spoken cannot be a barrier for communities to get vaccinated, the guidance said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit communities of color harder than white communities. People of color are more likely to be infected with or die from the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccine hesitancy due to historical discrimination and inequities in access have also contributed to disparities in outcomes for people of color, the HHS said. The rate of Black and Latino people who are fully vaccinated is lower than other groups, and communities of color are also less likely to have received a booster shot.
“We know that vaccines continue to be the best way to protect ourselves against COVID-19 and so ensuring everyone in America has easy and equitable access to them is a must,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “No matter your zip code, no matter your background, if you’re eligible—there’s a vaccine that’s in reach for you.”
Programs required to comply with Title VI and the ACA include “hospitals, health clinics, state or local public health authorities, pharmacies, mobile vaccine units, and nursing homes and/or long term care facilities,” the HHS said.
“This guidance was developed to ensure that everyone possible can access COVID-19 vaccines and boosters who is eligible,” OCR Director Lisa Pino said. “We all must do our part to ensure that no one is left behind during this pandemic, especially those most at risk.”