Health News Roundup

The access barriers behind vaccine disparities, concerns about AI and breast cancer disparities, and more in this week’s roundup

How COVID-19 could make Americans healthier
Joanne Kenen, Politico, Feb. 18
If you tried to design a weapon customized to exploit every weakness in the U.S. health care system, you might have come up with SARS-CoV-2: the novel coronavirus. We knew our health care system had deep flaws: Too little emphasis on prevention and primary care. Clunky data systems. A porous mental health system. Deep health disparities, arising from poverty, racism and decades of neglect. High costs. Uneven quality. And despite the gains of Obamacare, a lot of people who still can’t get affordable care at all. The good news is that health officials and policy experts know a lot about how to fix America’s health system. The work needed to contain and recover from the coronavirus might — just might — create momentum to fix things before the next catastrophe.

Data from the Dept. of Public Health show major disparities with vaccine rollout
Sharon Johnson and Olivia Lank, WFSB, Feb. 16
Data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health shows Black and Hispanic residents are getting vaccinated at lower rates than white residents. Much of the conversation so far has revolved around minorities not trusting the vaccine or the health care system. Many health and community leaders working with Connecticut’s communities of color say the problem is well beyond trust, citing the limited rollout and lack of access to transportation, technology, and health care, and language barriers as contributing to the gap. Health care leaders in Hartford are starting to send out community health workers to knock on doors and help sign people up. They also discussed setting up mobile clinics at apartment complexes to meet people where they are.
Related: Leaders ‘talking over’ people of color as they message vaccine hesitancy, Frankie Graziano, Connecticut Public Radio, Feb. 18

After a slow start, a new push to distribute COVID vaccines to Bridgeport’s neighborhoods
Dave Altimari, The Connecticut Mirror, Feb. 18
Donville Barrow slowly shuffled into the University of Bridgeport’s Wheeler Recreation Center Tuesday afternoon, aided by the cane in his right hand, to get his COVID-19 vaccine shot. The 83-year-old city native had been reluctant to get vaccinated until “some buddies got it, so I decided I’d take a shot at it too,” Barrow said as he placed a light blue sticker that said “I’m vaccinated. Crush COVID-19” on his sweatshirt. Barrow and other city residents are the very people officials are struggling to reach with vaccines. While the state remains among the best in the country in terms of overall vaccinations, it hasn’t been as successful getting shots to the people who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID — those who are Black and Hispanic. At the epicenter of the racial disparity issue is Bridgeport, the state’s largest city and the place where state officials are now concentrating their efforts.

Will breast cancer AI worsen disparities? Spotty FDA filings raise questions
Casey Ross, STAT, Feb. 11
The great hope of artificial intelligence in breast cancer is that it can distinguish harmless lesions from those likely to become malignant. But the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to grant clearances to these products without requiring them to publicly disclose how extensively their tools have been tested on people of color threatens to worsen already gaping disparities in outcomes within breast cancer, a disease which is 46% more likely to be fatal for Black women. Oncologists said testing algorithms on diverse populations is essential because of variations in the way cancers manifest themselves among different groups. Black women, for instance, are more likely to develop aggressive triple-negative tumors, and are often diagnosed earlier in life at more advanced stages of disease.

Covid-19 Vaccination Tracker: Charting U.S. rates by race, demographics
Rachael Dottle, Akayla Gardner, Jeff Green, Angelica LaVito, Marie Patino and Andre Tartar, Bloomberg, Feb. 16
The U.S. government promised a fair rollout of the vaccine, but distribution so far isn’t equitable, according to Bloomberg, which this week launched a vaccine demographics tracker that will be updated weekly. The news organization’s initial findings suggest vaccines are reaching white and Asian populations faster than Black and Hispanic people, though getting a complete picture of nationwide disparities remains a challenge. Early indications of inequity should be a clarion call for better, more complete data on race and ethnicity. Without it, we won’t be able to fully assess how well—or how poorly—the U.S. is serving all of its residents.

New Haven Alders adopt plan to fight racism in public health
Thomas Breen, New Haven Independent, Feb. 17
The Board of Alders unanimously adopted nearly 50 recommendations seeking to recognize and undo the negative health impacts caused by systemic racism against Black, Native American, Asian, and Latino residents. The recommendations include ensuring COVID-19 testing for all New Haven Public Schools student and staff, renaming the city’s Affirmative Action Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with funding of $75,000, and expanding the city’s health department’s “Health in All Policies” program.
Related: Advocates, lawmakers press for health equity measures as legislative session heats up, Jenna Carlesso, The Connecticut Mirror, Feb. 16