Blog The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

Racism in Healthcare: How Communities of Color are Affected by COVID-19

pensive black woman in medical uniform of patient
by Madison Byarley:

The With the recent (and ongoing) protests over police brutality and systemic racism toward Black Americans, the talk of equity and inclusion has become a priority for more and more people. Black Americans often have higher rates of various diseases and higher infant mortality rates; this disparity has not stopped with this pandemic. The combination of both the protests and the pandemic has led me to consider how the treatment of Black Americans is not equitable in how the pandemic is handled and how people are treated for COVID-19, and how the things I have learned in my MPA education have led me to notice what considerations are important to this issue–particularly in the areas of collaboration and program evaluation.

Throughout the country, Black and Latinx Americans face higher rates of contracting COVID than their white counterparts. The inequality that exists in healthcare in the treatment can affect the likelihood to contract covid in several ways–the discrimination that healthcare workers give their BIPOC patients, healthcare access, education levels and awareness, wealth gaps, and housing differences among other things. All of these factors contribute in many ways to the healthcare inequality that exists in the United States.

 Beyond there just being more cases for BIPOC Americans, there are also issues with the vaccination process for COVID. The early phases of the vaccination tests were done almost exclusively on white people, which raised concerns over how well the vaccine would work on the overall population and concerns over healthcare researchers not caring about BIPOC as much as they care for white people. Some healthcare workers are worried that the rush to get the vaccine as fast as possible is leaving BIPOC behind. The first trials only included Black people at 5%, but in the United States they make up roughly 13.5% of the overall population. By leaving out BIPOC from these studies it has the chance to increase healthcare disparity with COVID vaccinations.

The continuing trials for the vaccine do plan on including a more diverse group of people in the research process. However, because of the long standing disparities in healthcare, some communities of color are having a hard time trusting the vaccine, making them less likely to be willing to participate in these clinical trials. Black scientists, healthcare workers, and churches have been working together to try and get more BIPOC Americans to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine trials so that there can be data on a diverse group of people that better represents America as a whole. 

When I consider all of these issues arising due to the pandemic crisis I think of what I have learned about stakeholder engagement, program evaluation, and collaboration during my MPA education. It seems that BIPOC stakeholders are consistently being left out of the conversations that affect them the most. Collaboration efforts like the ones being done for the vaccine need to be insistent on making sure the right stakeholders are at the discussions–it is clear that collaboration is needed for tackling this crisis, but we have to make sure we do not leave valuable voices out and that we do not overlook the importance of trust. The lack of inclusion of BIPOC in the trials also highlights the importance of good program design that has been discussed in my courses and how important it can be to have a diverse group of people behind the planning of these trials. Without trust and good relationships, these vaccines will not be as successful, the collaborations on handling the crisis will not be as productive, and the health care disparities will continue to harm communities of color. 

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About the author:

Madison Byarley is an Urban and Regional Governance MPA candidate at IUPUI. She graduated in May of 2019 at Purdue University with a BA in Political Science and a Certificate in Public Policy. While at Purdue, Madison was a member of the Purdue Student Government Sustainability Council, Secretary of the Environmental Science Club, and the Secretary of the Political Science Honors Society-Pi Sigma Alpha. Currently, Madison acts in the role of research assistant for Dr. Peter Federman, assisting in investigating collaborative governance efforts to address climate change at the state and local level. She is the primary author of a paper-in-progress, titled: “Collaboration in Climate Action Plans — The Role of Interagency Collaboration for Developing Robust Plans”. She is also assisting in Dr. Federman’s research on COVID-19 state level executive orders. Her interests in environmental justice and urban sustainability continue to propel a committed work ethic and ongoing exploratory nature in coursework, employment, and extracurricular activities.