Does Idaho have a racial disparity problem with vaccinations? We don’t know.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

This week, CNN analyzed vaccination data from 14 states, finding white people in the United States are getting inoculated against COVID-19 at twice the rate of black and Hispanic people.

But in Idaho, the state doesn’t know if there are racial disparities in vaccine distribution. It doesn’t collect that data.

Racial and ethnic disparities in health care in the United States are well documented, and those inequities tied closely to health outcomes and life expectancy. Understanding now if historically marginalized populations are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine could help health officials further tailor their response and minimize infections.

However, in a Tuesday media call, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials said they were prohibited from collecting that information from vaccine recipients. 

“Idaho’s immunization information system is limited by statute in the mandatory information that we are allowed to collect,” said Sarah Leeds, program manager for the Idaho Immunization Program, adding the ability to collect information “is not as robust as we would like.”

That claim was repeated in a Thursday press conference with Gov. Brad Little and IDHW director Dave Jeppesen.

An Idaho Reports review of relevant code and administrative rules on Idaho’s immunization information system did not reveal any such limitations in data collection. The Idaho Statesman was also unable to find any rules or statutes limiting the collection of demographic information. On Thursday, an IDHW spokesperson was still looking for more information on the claim after a Tuesday afternoon request.  During Thursday’s press conference, Jeppesen said he would follow up on the request.

Like elsewhere in the nation, Hispanic Idahoans have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. Though about 12 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic, 19 percent of COVID-19 diagnoses have been in Hispanic people, according to the most recent data released by IDHW. In the early months of the pandemic, Hispanic Idahoans made up about a third of diagnosed cases in which ethnicity was known; In some counties, that percentage was as high as 78 percent.

On Tuesday, Leeds and state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said the department is doing outreach with historically marginalized communities, including Idaho’s refugee population and tribal nations. But without vaccine demographic data, the state may not know if that outreach is working.

Devon Downey contributed to this report.

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