NEW YORK — Dr. Steven McDonald has worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic for almost a year now, and he’s seen firsthand the disproportionate effect of the virus on Black and brown communities.
VICE News first met the emergency room physician in June, when he and hundreds of other medical workers in New York City joined Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
The doctors and nurses wanted to send a message that racism is a public health crisis in the United States. Police brutality and the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths among Black Americans, they argued, are symptoms of the same disease.
Now, months after the protests and a year into the deadly pandemic, McDonald is worried that not much has been done to address these racial disparities.
“After the year of the biggest civil rights protests that the United States has ever seen, I wish I could tell you, yes, we're living in a totally different world,” he told VICE News.
“The reality is we're not. I mean, just look at the vaccine rollout. We're still having debates over how much can we protect the Black community at the expense of Americans at large.”
Despite being nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people, Black Americans are consistently receiving vaccines at a rate lower than their share of the population, according to states that collect demographic data.
While the slow rate of adoption is often attributed to vaccine skepticism in Black communities, McDonald says the blame lies mostly with local governments and their lack of outreach to minority communities.
“Is it unimaginable to think of a world where the department of health would go door to door in Black neighborhoods offering the vaccine?” he asked.
“I think we need to be engaging these communities a lot more than we currently are. And if we're not going door to door, that sounds like a start.”
“You can think of the vaccine almost as medical reparations,” McDonald added. “It's the ‘40 acres and a mule,’ but of 2021. So we really should be giving this vaccine preferentially to people of color, I do believe.”
VICE News caught up with McDonald to discuss racial disparities in the vaccine rollout, and what he thinks needs to be done to address them.