Last Updated on July 10, 2022 by BVN

Jazmine Chism |

As Californians move into the third year responding to the COVID-19 pandemic it is undeniable that the state has gone through seismic changes. 

The social, economic and environmental challenges facing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) communities have been amplified as a result of the the pandemic. Increased death rates, lower vaccination rates and gaps in information sharing with BIPOC communities has brought these inequities to the forefront of public health discussions. 

While work is currently being done  to mitigate disproportionate outcomes, we need to keep the momentum up and increase efforts that move us closer to health equity.  As we have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, health care providers must reconcile what has worked and what practices belong in a more equitable public health future.

Social constructs

Overrepresentation of Black, Latino and Native people in frontline jobs where they faced increased risk of exposure to the virus is one example of the social constructs that made these communities more vulnerable during the pandemic. 

Quarantine was one of the most sobering catalysts to the country’s awakening around racial and socioeconomic injustices in BIPOC communities. From the onset of the pandemic, the virus noticeably increased the mortality and infection rates of the BIPOC community. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, data shows that, “Hispanic, Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) people are at least twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts and that Hispanic and AIAN (American Indian and Alaska Native)  people are at nearly two times greater risk of COVID-19 infection than white people.”

From the onset of the pandemic, the virus noticeably increased the mortality and infection rates of the BIPOC community. (source: kff.org)

Challenges to equity and the quest for community-centered solutions

BIPOC communities face unique challenges in attaining  COVID-19  Vaccine Equity. Lack of reliable education regarding the virus, transportation and living conditions, and lack of trust in medical institutions resulting from a history of unethical experimentation are among the most formidable barriers to vaccine equity within BIPOC communities. 

While the challenges are undeniable, communities have been leading the charge to create solutions that work for them. If we are truly to move toward a more equitable future in public health, we must make sure communities are included in the solution-building process.  

Community-based training and education have proven to be formidable tools in efforts to increase vaccination rates. By properly educating BIPOC community members about the health disparity they face, they are more likely to make informed decisions about preventative health measures such as the vaccine.  

A good example of this work is evidenced in organizations like TRAP Medicine (Trust, Research, Access, and Prevention), a non-profit organization and mobile clinic that goes into barber shops in predominantly Black communities for their “cultural capital”  in order to equip employees with the tools they need to engage their customers in conversations about preventive health and mental health services. 

These are the types culturally informed solutions that are necessary to make a real difference in public health outcomes for communities that have been historically underserved by healthcare institutions. 

Establishing trust in these communities is a necessary step in the path forward.  Traditional institutions like hospitals and clinics should look to community-based models to help improve care for the communities they serve.  

Removing barriers to representation in health care industry

We must also keep in mind the lack of representation in the healthcare field. Due to the income inequality and harsher socioeconomic opportunity that BIPOC communities face, there is an underrepresentation of these communities in higher levels of healthcare service and administration. We must also engage with policies that support pathways for BIPOC students to be educated and trained to take high-level healthcare positions. 

Income inequality and harsher socioeconomic opportunities face by BIPOC communities has resulted in an underrepresentation of these communities in higher levels of healthcare service and administration.(source: freepik.com)

By diversifying the public health workforce and fields that indirectly support public health we can move toward health equity. It has been obvious from the COVID-19 infection rates that a lack of investment in public health has exacerbated the negative outcomes of the pandemic. 

Public serving institutions must evolve and make the necessary changes to provide life-saving support to the communities that clearly need it most.  The sustained engagement with BIPOC and underserved communities must be at the forefront of any public health solution-making process. 

Jazmine Chism is a second year Pre-Human Biology and Society Major and African-American Studies Minor at the University of California Los Angeles. She is currently working as an undergraduate researcher for the Soragni Lab. Jazmine is deeply committed to advancing causes that support health equity, inclusion and access.

BVN Contributor

The author is a periodic contributor to Black Voice News and the IE Voice. The opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Voice Media Ventures. Please submit any questions, comments or concerns to info@blackvoicenews.com.