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Those hit hardest by COVID should get vaccine priority

On Sept. 1, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a Discussion Draft of the Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine. This robust 114-page framework proposes a commonsense phased approach for the eventual distribution of safe COVID-19 vaccines.

The necessity for a phased approach to safe vaccinations is based on the likelihood of an initial limited vaccine capacity. While the authors note the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black, Latino, American Indian, and Native Alaskan populations, we hope the final framework clearly prioritizes access for residents in multigenerational housing from geographic areas hardest hit by the pandemic. In Santa Clara County, many of these residents are people of color.

Here in Santa Clara County, Latino residents account for 25% of our population but are over half of our COVID-19 cases and over 30% of COVID-19 deaths. In addition to the devastating impact on health, more than one in five Black, Latino, and immigrant women in California have lost their jobs due to the economic fallout caused by the pandemic. Due to pandemic-related job loss, the number of employed Black women has dropped by 23% and the number of employed Latina women has dropped by 22%. This is three times the rate of job loss experienced by white men.

Many residents within our county live in multigenerational households, either by cultural preference, economic necessity, or a combination of the two. Particularly in small living quarters, COVID-19 can then ravage entire families, especially if family members are essential workers without the ability to work from home. The same members of our community who are at the greatest risk for COVID-19 and the pandemic-related job loss are often those that live within multigenerational households. This means that many families are facing a compound loss that could take generations to recover, if they do ever recover.

We were both honored to participate in the Health and Racial Equity Task Force led by San Jose Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco earlier this year. During our time on the task force, we advocated for the health, safety, and well-being of those most impacted by COVID-19 within our county. The task force developed more than 30 recommendations that were unanimously approved by Mayor Sam Liccardo and the City Council, covering everything from testing and tracing to worker safety and eviction protection. We believe these recommendations will equitably help our county by ensuring that those who need the most will receive the most assistance. Today we are advocating for the same equity lens to be applied to vaccine distribution.

We wholeheartedly believe that high-risk health care workers and first responders should receive priority for the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1a, as recommended by the National Academies. Our country has already lost hundreds of health care workers to COVID-19. Notably, healthcare workers of color are twice as likely to acquire COVID-19 as their white peers.

In considering Phase 1b, we believe the vaccine recommendations should be expanded to include residents in multigenerational housing in the geographic