As advocates question the number of coronavirus vaccines going to Black and Brown recipients across the country, officials from the City of Detroit say even though the data is incomplete, they are sure that vaccines are predominantly being administered to Black Detroiters.

City officials reported Tuesday that 70 percent of its vaccine recipients have voluntarily shared racial demographic data. Patients are given the option to disclose the information upon booking their vaccine appointment, and again while filling out paperwork to receive the inoculation. Of those willing to self-report this information, many were Black. However, over 26,000 vaccine recipients, or about 30 percent of all vaccine recipients by Tuesday, chose not to share their race, leaving a gap of unknowns of who is receiving the coronavirus vaccine in Detroit. 

Race and ethnicity data is of concern to some health advocates given the disproportionate coronavirus case and death rates experienced by Black and Brown communities across the country. In a Brookings and New Detroit report that was released on Tuesday, it was found that Black residents are 2.1 times more likely to die from coronavirus than white residents.

Detroit Public Health Director Denise Fair said at a press conference earlier this week that the vaccination rate in Detroit is good news for the city and that there is enough data to say that the rate of Black recipients who have received the vaccine is in line with census data of the number of Black residents in Detroit.

This might be true, as long as most of the 26,000 recipients who chose not to disclose their race are indeed Black. But the City doesn’t know for sure. 

According to Data Driven Detroit, there are many unknowns about race and ethnicity within coronavirus data. The organization said in a blog post that even less ethnicity data was being captured than racial demographic data at the state level last year, noting “Hispanic/Latino data is assigned to unknown 39 percent of the time for cases and 27 percent of the time for deaths. Arab ethnicity is unknown almost 75 percent of the time in both cases and deaths.”

It is unknown why 30 percent of Detroit’s vaccine recipients chose not to disclose this information and makes it more difficult to determine whether racial disparities exist within Detroit’s vaccine eligibility. 

Detroit officials say they continue to input collected data and will not publish unknown data to its coronavirus dashboard.

“We strongly feel the data show Detroit is doing as good a job as any jurisdiction making sure its African-American population is being vaccinated at a rate proportional to its representation in the community as a whole,” John Roach, director of media relations for the City, told BridgeDetroit on Wednesday.  

The Brookings-led report, Examining and Addressing COVID-19 racial disparities in Detroit, answers questions about why Black people are disproportionately diagnosed and die from coronavirus and how COVID-19 impacts other health issues. 

According to the report, one in every 645 Black people can expect to die from COVID-19. Researchers found that Black residents were more likely to have issues with housing, money, and food, and are three times more likely than white residents to have a family or friend become ill from COVID-19. 

“When America catches a cold, Black people get the flu. Well, when America catches coronavirus, Black people die,” a stakeholder within the report said about the ramifications of coronavirus.  

Even more, data from the University of Michigan show Black and Brown Detroiters were hesitant to request the vaccine last fall. Since then, local groups and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have created community outreach campaigns to share vaccine information with Black and Brown populations so that these groups could make educated and informed decisions about their own health. The governor also declared racism as a public health issue in 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Dr. Herbert Smitherman, vice dean of diversity and community affairs at Wayne State University and president and CEO of Health Centers Detroit Foundation, said it’s important to recognize the cases and death rates out of Detroit compared to the rest of the state when determining how to distribute vaccines. He cited the Dying Before Their Time report and the “longitudinal, historic challenges that African Americans and older African Americans have experienced in the United States.” He said these populations were already “vulnerable” and that “adding coronavirus has exacerbated the problem.”

“You want to make sure you prioritize vaccinations in such a way that you are addressing disproportionate chronic diseases, or where it’s been affected and impacted,” Smitherman said. “Detroit is 79% African American, and African Americans are dying (at a higher) death rate from coronavirus. So you clearly want to make sure that population is vaccinated in the early parts of the distribution of the vaccination.” 

“When America catches a cold, Black people get the flu. Well, when America catches coronavirus, Black people die,” a stakeholder within the report says about the ramifications of coronavirus. 

By Thursday, Detroit had administered almost 100,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines with over 55,000 appointments scheduled through the end of the month. City officials said Wednesday that 62 percent of all vaccine recipients have been Detroit residents. The remaining 38% are non-Detroiters who work in the city as first responders, teachers, and grocery store workers.

The State of Michigan announced on Wednesday that it expects to receive enough vaccines to allow all residents age 50 and up to get vaccinated beginning March 22.

Mayor Mike Duggan expanded eligibility to manufacturing employees, adding to a laundry list of eligible work groups. This week’s expansion also includes Detroiters age 50 and older with chronic health conditions. 

Duggan said not every city vaccine will go to a resident.

“Everyone who is 65 and above, is a Detroiter,” said Duggan. “We also vaccinated 7,000 school teachers. Probably half of the school teachers were non-Detroiters. I don’t have any hesitation about that, they’re taking care of our children.”

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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