WASHINGTON — More than 100 mayors urged President Joe Biden’s administration Monday to start sending COVID-19 vaccines directly to cities, bypassing states that have controlled the allocation of doses to local communities.
The request, made in a letter from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, comes in response to a “troubling pattern” of vaccine inequity identified by 116 mayors: People of color — who are concentrated in cities — lack equal access to vaccines, they say, even as distribution has rapidly increased nationally.
“We ask that you provide vaccines directly to cities nationwide, and ensure states do not interfere with our allocations,” the letter reads, arguing that city governments “understand our communities” best and can “most nimbly” identify needs, deploy municipal services and vaccinate residents equitably and efficiently.
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The mayors said they “see and do not accept” the growing vaccine disparities facing people of color and other vulnerable populations.
“Many of those people live in cities – and as mayors of those cities, for the sake of our most marginalized constituents, we ask that you provide us direct allocation with true local control so that we can increase the efficiency and equity of vaccine distribution,” the letter reads.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Vaccinations ramp up nationwide
The U.S. administered an average of 2.7 million vaccine shots over the past seven days, an increase from 2.5 million the week prior, according to Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response. Nearly three out of every four seniors, 73%, and 36% of all adults have received their first vaccine dose. More than 50 million Americans are fully vaccinated.
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After already surpassing his goal to administer 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days, Biden last week announced a new goal of 200 million vaccines by Day 100.
Biden directed his COVID-19 response team Monday to ensure 90% of the U.S. population is within at least five miles of a vaccination site by April 19. That includes increasing the number of pharmacies offering one of the three COVID-19 vaccines from 17,000 to 40,000. He said his administration plans to add 12 new federally operated mass vaccination sites and boost transportation services to help low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Two such facilities are set to open this week in St. Louis and Gary, Indiana.
“Over 60% of the vaccines given at these sites go to minority communities because they’re in minority communities,” Biden said. “We have to reach out.”
Those who signed the letter include New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot; Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego; New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell; St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson; Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas; Oakland, California, Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Citing a continued concern over vital protective equipment and supplies, the mayors also urged the Biden administration to “fully utilize” the deployment of the Defense Production Act to boost greater production of materials for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccine administration.
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CDC data shows broad disparity
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has race and ethnicity data for about half the vaccines administered. It shows a disparity: Sixty-six percent of those with at least one shot are white; 9.9% are Hispanic; 8.2% are Black; 4.9% are Asian; and 1.4% are Native American. Black people make up about 12% of the overall U.S. population while Hispanic Americans make up around 18%.
The U.S. will have 21 federally run vaccination sites operating when the two facilities open when the St. Louis and Gary, Indiana, facilities open.
Black Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19 at 2.9 times the rate of white Americans and die at 1.9 times the rate, according to CDC data. Latinos are hospitalized at more than three times the rate and die more than twice the rate of white Americans.
At the same time, Black Americans have expressed more hesitancy than other ethnic groups on taking the COVID-19 vaccine. However, a Pew Research poll this month found attitudes are changing. A majority of Black Americans, 61%, said they planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine, up from 42% in November, but still below white adults (69%), Hispanic adults (70%) and English-speaking Asian American adults (91%).
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.