In a conversation with moderator Margaret Brennan of “Face the Nation,” Former Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams discussed the coronavirus vaccine, rural America, and health disparities among minority communities.
In a tweet about the conversation with “Face the Nation,” Adams said, “Glad to be here discussing #covid19, disparities by race, gender and geography, #vaccinations, and how we can end this pandemic- equitably!”
— Jerome Adams (@JeromeAdamsMD) February 19, 2021
According to CBS News, the doctor discussed the impact of COVID-19 on different demographics, telling Brennan on Friday that rural America has been just as negatively impacted by the pandemic as urban communities, “albeit in different ways.”
“Demographic data isn’t just about race — it’s about gender and geography and religion and language,” Adams said. “One of the things I’m hoping the new administration does is remember that America is more than just the cities and the coasts. Most of America, and over half of minorities, live in the South and middle America. It can’t be urban vs rural or red vs blue. COVID-19 affects all.”
Adams reportedly said the country now has a chance to alter the trajectory of life expectancy for black and Hispanic communities, but that we “must first understand not everyone has the same opportunities for health — equality isn’t equity.”
CBS News reports:
Shortly after COVID-19 was first identified in the United States, disparities in testing, cases, hospitalizations and mortality began to emerge. Inequities were quickly evident by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors.
In response, the Biden administration has since pushed ahead with a national strategy focused on ensuring an equitable response to the pandemic, including President Biden’s executive order signed shortly after taking office creating a task force to address COVID-19 related health and social inequities.
As only the second Black male to ever hold the position of surgeon general, Adams has focused on the links between community health and economic prosperity.
Adams added that a key part to achieving equity is not only enough access to physicians and treatments, but also social conditions that are stable. “I’m convinced we have a once in a generation opportunity to address systemic flaws that can help beyond COVID-19,” he said.
“We talk about social determinants of health — things like transportation and housing and a good-paying job. All of these things are just as important. Studies actually show them to be more important in many cases as access to doctors or medicines,” Adams said.
“We must talk about racial bias and its impact on cancer, high blood pressures, maternal and infant mortality and more,” he added. “Systemic racism is a determinant of health. And being a part of it doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s about flawed systems, not flawed people.”
The former health official’s comments come at a time when “equity” is one of the main discussion points of the Biden administration. When President Joe Biden took office, he signed executive orders to address alleged inequity.
According to The White House’s January 26 statement:
These [executive] orders build on actions the President took during his first week in office to advance equity, which historians have described as one of the most robust efforts to advance racial justice in the first weeks of any new administration. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an unprecedented Executive Order establishing a whole-of-government initiative to address racial equity and support underserved communities, and redress systemic racism in federal policies, laws, and programs.
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it will be sending COVID-19 vaccines directly to certain health centers. This is reportedly an effort to reach out to underserved communities, but some governors have urged Biden to work closely with the states to avoid confusion.
On Tuesday, The Daily Wire reported:
…the governors stated that the “federal decisions to use pharmacies and [Federally Qualified Health Centers] should be coordinated with state governments.” They added that if the federal government works separately from the states in their distribution efforts, “redundancy and inefficiency may very well follow.”
The letter seemed to address the Biden administration’s approach of focusing more on the federal government’s response to COVID rather than utilizing a state-centered strategy.
The governors wrote, “We are the front line in the battle against COVID-19 and we will only succeed if we work together.”
Adams also commented on the difficulty of sending out the vaccine doses, saying, “Public health experts always knew this was going to be the hardest vaccine distribution in history. And we need to understand that while federal planning and funding/support are critical, most of the work happens at the state and local level.”
He added, “I used to run a state health department. You absolutely cannot bypass the state or you will have chaos. But you also have to recognize that not all states have the local partnerships in place to reach the most vulnerable communities.”