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The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) published a new memo outlining two COVID-19 oral antiviral therapies that have received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are in short supply.

NYSDOH said the newly authorized oral antiviral treatments, including Paxlovid (Pfizer) and molnupiravir (Merck), are in “limited supply will require providers to prioritize treatment for patients at highest risk for severe COVID-19 until more product becomes available.” 

The department prioritizes those who are severely immunocompromised or have at least one risk factor for severe illness can receive oral antiviral treatments. Besides some risk factors that include cancer, diabetes, dementia, and or other debilitating diseases, the NYSDOH list being non-white “should be considered a risk factor, as long-standing systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19.”

People on social media found the decision by NYSDOH to include “non-white race” as a risk factor is appalling. Here’s what one Yale University professor said: 

“White people need not apply,” NYPost columnist Karol Markowicz said, while Republican Party official and lawyer Harmeet Dhillon wrote, “This is illegal and should be enjoined.”

One person said, “This policy is blatant racism. It also may backfire on minority patients, in the same way that drugging them and putting them all on body-destroying ventilators (you know, to “help” them) got a lot of them killed in the early days of the pandemic for no good reason.” 

As Glenn Greenwald wrote earlier, the rationale for using race to determine who is and is not eligible for life-saving COVID treatments is dubious in the extreme, to put it generously. 

The factors which the CDC cites immediately make clear how warped it is to prioritize some racial groups over others when it comes to access to life-saving COVID treatments. To begin with, the CDC notes that “people from some racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than non-Hispanic White people.” Indeed, the most recent CDC data demonstrates that Black people and Hispanics are getting vaccinated at lower rates than White people, while Asians are getting vaccinated at higher rates than everyone. That data shows that for forty-two states surveyed, “58% percent of White people had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, which was close to the rate for Hispanic people (56%) but higher than the rate for Black people (51%),” while “the overall vaccination rate across states for Asian people was higher compared to White people (77% vs. 58%).”

But at least in many liberal sectors, a failure to be vaccinated for COVID has been deemed a moral failing that deserves deprioritization for health care, not higher prioritization. Those calling for vaccine mandates and vaccine passports want people who are unvaccinated to be denied the ability to work, study, travel or have access to public spaces on the ground that being unvaccinated is an immoral choice that endangers responsible citizens. Some doctors are refusing to provide health care to unvaccinated people, and the medical profession has been openly debating whether the unvaccinated should be turned away. Some liberal politicians have advocated that unvaccinated people be denied health insurance.

For all of 2021, the prevailing argument has been that the unvaccinated are reckless, immoral, diseased and dangerous, and deserve punishment and restrictions. But that is exactly why it was necessary to create a false narrative about who the unvaccinated population is: pretending that they are composed only of White Trump supporters while erasing the large percentages of Black and Hispanic Americans who remain unvaccinated. No liberal is comfortable admitting that they are advocating policies that will result in the firing of people in the middle of a pandemic who are disproportionately Black. Indeed, it has become increasingly popular to argue that any policy, even if racially neutral on its face, should be deemed racist if it disproportionately disadvantages Black or other non-white people; given that Black people have among the highest percentages of unvaccinated people by racial group, policies such as vaccinate mandates and passports would disproportionately result in the firing of Black workers or their denial to travel or enter other public spaces.

But whatever else is true: since when is being unvaccinated a cause for prioritizing people when it comes to life-saving COVID treatments? In liberal discourse, treating the unvaccinated as immoral monsters has become common. But unlike liberal media outlets, the CDC cannot ignore the fact that vaccination rates are lower among Black people than other racial groups. They have to grapple with that fact. And they do so by denying the universal applicability of the vaccine and claiming — with no data cited — that the reason for this high rate of vaccine hesitancy or refusal among Black Americans is racism and structural inequities rather than agency and choice.

Thus does the CDC attribute vaccination disparities among racial groups to social and economic “inequities.” 

The key point to all of this is clear: race is irrelevant in these medical determinations. Regardless of why Black Americans are getting vaccinated at lower rates than other racial groups, the relevant risk factor is vaccination statusnot race. Based on the CDC’s premise that “COVID-19 vaccination reduces the risk of COVID-19 and its potentially severe complications,” then a vaccinated Black person, all other factors being equal (age and health), would be at less risk for severe COVID complications than an unvaccinated White person. So it makes absolutely no sense to prioritize racial groups for treatment access based on vaccination disparities among racial groups.


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