Report warns COVID-19 vaccine mandate for DC students could increase racial inequity

As D.C. moves closer to requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a report from the Council Office of Racial Equity (CORE), which examines legislation the council considers, found that such a mandate could exacerbate racial inequity for Black schoolchildren.

The CORE report on the legislation that was advanced in the D.C. Council on Tuesday said that while it might improve health outcomes for Black residents, “enforcement of the bill will exacerbate racial inequity by disproportionately removing Black students from school. This may result in increased learning loss, additional negative social and educational outcomes and in blocking students from vital school resources.”

CORE Director Brian McClure told WTOP that it began its analysis by looking at the data.

“Specifically, I wanted to know what the current vaccination rates were by race, ethnicity and age group,” McClure said, citing charts on pages 3 to 6 in the report.

“I believed this data could provide some level of insight as to current trends in vaccine uptake. The data was clear: Black residents in the District, in particular, remain the most likely to contract and lose their life from the virus. Yet, despite the vaccine being available for nearly a year across most age groups (except 5-11 until recently), the District’s Black residents continue to have the lowest vaccination rates,” McClure told WTOP in an email.

The report notes that younger age groups face larger inequities. And Black residents between 12 and 15 are fully vaccinated at less than half the rate of Asian and Pacific Islander residents.

Black residents also have the lowest rates of partial vaccination across all age groups, according to the report.

(Courtesy CORE)

CORE cited data from DC Health and found that as of Dec. 3, less than 20% of residents ages 5 to 24 are fully vaccinated in Wards 7 and 8, where more than 90% of residents are Black.

“The Council Office of Racial Equity has written at length about some of the structural and institutional barriers keeping vaccination rates low among Black residents,” the report said.

“Unfortunately, the bill does not address the underlying causes and structural barriers to equitable vaccine coverage, ensure a robust rollout plan, or target resources in new and creative ways. Instead, the bill puts the onus solely on families.”

Under the bill, students would be required to be vaccinated by March 1, 2022, but the mandate won’t be enforced until the 2022-2023 school year.

The bill also requires all staff working at licensed child care centers in the District to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

As for what CORE would like to see from city leaders and the D.C. Council, McClure said his group supports the guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, encouraging jurisdictions to address “the needs of all populations, according to specific cultural, linguistic, and environmental factors.”

“(Chairman Phil Mendelson) raised some good points in Tuesday’s legislative meeting that the Executive (Mayor Muriel Bowser) must do all in their power to maximize vaccine coverage. He also committed to holding oversight hearings to monitor steps the Mayor is taking to ensure residents have access to and are receiving the vaccine,” McClure wrote.

He does credit D.C. with having “one of the more robust and comprehensive approaches to combating the public health emergency in the country” by both the mayor’s office and the council.

“Even given these critical steps, as long as deep racial disparities in vaccine coverage remain, our attention should be on doing all that we can to come up with innovative approaches to support residents that have been historically underrepresented,” McClure said.

The final reading and vote on the bill will likely happen when the council meets Dec. 21.


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