Canada’s national advisory committee on immunization has called for those in racialized communities to be among the next priority groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
This recommendation is geared toward prioritizing individuals from Black and other vulnerable groups who are among the hardest hit in the pandemic. This is welcome news, especially for Torontonians of African and Caribbean descent currently experiencing the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in the city. However, it is important to raise questions about how we can effectively address challenges that continue to leave Black communities behind in our society.
In North America and beyond, many organizations report that Black individuals have higher rates of COVID-19 infection and are more likely to die from it. On top of that, Black communities are adversely impacted by systemic issues, lack of access to resources, stigma, bias and lack of culturally sensitive and responsible services in health care and other areas. Prioritizing the COVID-19 vaccine for this group does not amount to equitable access to health care.
The mental health challenges among Afro-Caribbean women, for example, that were already running at crisis-level proportions prior to the pandemic have increased, with issues of anxiety and isolation that the pandemic lockdowns have created for them (and many other Canadians). The intersectionality of many of these issues facing this population — sexism, racism and ageism, or the “triple jeopardy” that I have referred to in past research — has further compounded the inequity they face in health care. Prior to the pandemic, many young Black Caribbean women in Canada have experienced exclusion from appropriate health-care research, as is evident through the lack of data.
Now is a pivotal moment for Canadians to work together to identify and respond to the needs of Black communities more effectively to address the disparities that COVID-19 highlights.
We need to create and increase access to services in health care, provide education around vaccination and about the vaccine itself from trusted sources and fund more research on the health of Black communities. Policy decisions, and meaningful changes to social determinants of health through gathering race-based data in partnership with Black communities, can help us develop a deeper understanding of the inequity Black communities face. In day-to-day life for many Black Canadians, the pandemic intertwines health issues with socio-economic challenges. Financial assistance to address homelessness and poverty, food programs and safe recreation programs are key to ensuring inclusive and equitable access to health care.
As a professor in the department of social work at Trent University, I have been encouraged by many of the questions raised by students, who are our future practitioners and policy-makers, especially since this pandemic. I hope the burden is not on the next generation alone to tackle systemic oppression and discrimination.
Dalon Taylor is a professor of social work at Trent University Durham. Her research focuses on skilled migration, health inequities, race and racism and social identities. If you would like to share your experience as an immigrant for her current research projects, Support, Inclusion and Success to Identify the Service Needs of Racialized Immigrants in Durham Region or Empowerment and Exclusion in Immigrant Experiences of Securing Professional Employment in Durham, email email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in Metroland-Durham Division.