Editor’s Note: CNN’s Don Lemon and Dr. Sanjay Gupta explore vaccine hesitancy in the Black community on CNN TV’s “The Color of Covid: The Vaccines” Friday, December 18 at 10p ET.
Institutional racism in the United States contributes to the disproportional impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the Black community, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on Tuesday.
When asked about the racial disparities emerging amid the pandemic during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the “Oversight of the Trump Administration’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Fauci responded that the Black community has been facing a “double whammy.”
Fauci noted that some Black adults may not be able to social distance if they are essential workers, and there is a disproportionate prevalence of underlying conditions within the Black community, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, chronic lung disease and kidney disease.
“So unfortunately we have a situation where it’s sort of a double whammy,” Fauci said.
But also, “obviously, the African American community has suffered from racism for a very, very long period of time,” Fauci said. “I can’t imagine that that is not contributing to the conditions that they find themselves in, economically or otherwise.”
This isn’t the first time that Fauci has talked about Covid-19 excessively impacting Black Americans.
“African-Americans have suffered disproportionately from coronavirus disease. They’ve suffered in that their rate of infection is higher because of the nature of the economic status that many of them find themselves in where they’re outside working, being unable to physically separate,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on the US Department of Health and Human Services’ podcast “Learning Curve.”
“And then when they do get infected, given the social determinants of health which make … them have a higher incidence of diseases like hypertension, obesity, diabetes,” Fauci said. “They are at much greater risk of suffering the deleterious consequences, including death.”
Social determinants of health include the conditions people are born into and live in that can impact their health, as well as the complex social structures and economic systems that shape these conditions, including discrimination in access to and quality of health care.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it more clear than ever before that the United States needs to invest in communities – especially in ways that could reduce health disparities, one expert on racial justice said last week.
“I think we need to think about devoting more resources to addressing the issues that create the disparities and prevalence in susceptibility to coronavirus,” David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, said on a Facebook Live discussion.
“It’s the way in which the institutional racism, for lack of a better word, seeps down into some very, very specific and particular differences in treatment,” he said.
Addressing racism and Covid-19 in a talk about inequities and policing on Thursday, Harris highlighted issues that have put Black communities at a disadvantage as the pandemic has gone on.
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“The coronavirus has revealed to us that we also need to invest massive amounts of resources in our communities,” Harris said.
“Even if we have a vaccine and we are able to survive the virus, we can’t forget the lesson the virus taught us,” he added. “We still have to insist on those resources.”
CNN’s Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.