With the beginning of the new year, there seems to be a laundry list of words that the world is okay with retiring: unprecedented, asynchronous, troubling, uncertain. Yet the pandemic rages on, continuing to upend the lives of people all over the globe. It has begun to exemplify the many flaws and injustices in our current systems regarding healthcare, wealth dispersion, and food security, particularly in the United States. Although we may be “all in this together,” it has become clear that some are weathering the pandemic in a yacht and others, merely in a life jacket out at sea. Whether it be targeted car ads: The Pandemic Sucks, Buy a Honda, or Walmart commercials that tug at your heartstrings, we the viewers are reminded again and again that every aspect of “normal” life has been impacted. However, what we don’t often see is the distribution of this impact and what communities often take the brunt of it.
Jennifer Allen, a Professor in the Department of Community Health at Tufts University and one of the principal investigators exploring Equity and Health in America, is devoted to understanding the different aspects of equity, and how it especially relates to the current pandemic. Allen and a team of interdisciplinary scholars started their research regarding Equity and Wealth in America with the goal of understanding and analyzing different types of equity (and inequity) present in this country. As Allen describes, “This is a broader initiative, where we're trying to really bring together the existing research that hasn’t touched on topics regarding equity but also to catalyze some new research. The major product right now out of our group is this national survey, where we were distributing a survey that asks all kinds of questions regarding different aspects of equity.”
After receiving funding from the Office of The Vice President Provost for the project, the team curated a survey, which was then fielded by IPSOS, a popular polling service, for the data collection. Although the initial research was started prior to the pandemic, her team was able to pivot their focus to include aspects surrounding Covid-19. As a Public Health researcher, Allen is especially interested in possible community-based intervention that results from the data collected in this study. Primarily, how to create solutions not only for the problems introduced by the pandemic but also for systemic injustices imposed on specific communities. Her current focus is on vaccine acceptance among the various racial and ethnic groups, as well as socioeconomic classes.
We have seen the impact the pandemic has had on vulnerable communities in this country, and part of the work that Professor Allen and members of her team are doing involves looking at how sustained inequalities will possibly continue to widen during and after the pandemic. Ultimately, what does that mean for the health of these communities? In a quote by Allen, “Because COVID has disproportionately affected certain communities, communities of color, low-income communities, people are distrustful of the vaccine. It seems like the vaccine could even widen the disparities that we're seeing.” The results of the study show that African Americans and low-income communities are the least willing to accept a vaccine. This data is concerning, considering that the lack of access to preventative medical treatment has made these communities predisposed to having more severe reactions to the virus, with the APM Research lab citing Covid-19 as the third leading cause of death for Black Americans, and having the highest mortality rate in Indigenous Americans.
According to Allen, “There's a lot of resources and assets in communities and sometimes, at least in our field of public health, we spend so much time documenting, what are the bad things, or what the problems are? And I think that's important, but it's also really important to see beyond that, to what are those sort of rich resources and relationships that exist in communities? And how can we help to foster those to improve equity across these different domains?” The research collected is not limited to the pandemic. Allen and her team have expanded their data collection to include information regarding discrimination and how it negatively influences both mental and physical health as well as access to mental and physical healthcare. Currently, they are looking to secure more funding in order to expand their research, and begin to answer some of the questions regarding equity and accessibility, rather than just documenting negative effects. With sufficient funding, Allen is hopeful that more data collection can really prepare the groundwork for real change in the Public Health sector and the community well-being aspect of this research. “We've known for a very long time about the impacts of structural racism on health. And I think, you know, this forces us to look at it straight on. I really am excited about being part of a group who's trying to think about more ways that we can do something about it.”
Explore equity and inequity in health, wealth and civic engagement in the USA. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2020, from https://equityresearch.tufts.edu/ac1=everyone&ac2=a2cej_bt
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. (2020, July 24). December 17, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html
Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19. (2021, January 08). Retrieved December 17, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/obesity-and-covid-19.html
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Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 deaths analyzed by race and ethnicity. (2021, January 07). Retrieved December 17, 2020, from https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race