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coronavirus crisis

Biden promised COVID-19 vaccine equity. There isn't enough data to know if that's happening.

Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, infections, deaths, and economic effects continue to hit people of color harder than white people.

President Biden acknowledged the virus' disproportionate toll, particularly on Black and Latino people, when taking office, pledging to put equity at the forefront of vaccine distribution efforts. But after two months of vaccine distribution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't have enough data to know if it's actually achieving that goal, The New York Times reports.

So far, the CDC has gathered race and ethnicity data for just 52 percent of COVID-19 vaccine recipients, a report issued last week indicated. Some states prevent the collection or sharing of this kind of data, while other times, those fields are just left blank when people sign up to receive the vaccine. Epidemiologists have since been forced to begin "filling in the gaps by cross-referencing against secondary sources," Arkansas' health secretary Dr. José Romero told the Times.

The Biden administration has prioritized sending vaccines to underserved areas, including with a shipment of vaccines headed to federally funded clinics next week. But former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen said the typical "first-come, first-served" method of distribution still favors the "privileged." And it's not just an "empathy issue," Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told the Times. Identifying groups "most likely to get affected and die" is the best way to control disease spread in the first place, he said.

The lack of data is sure to complicate an already slow distribution process. As two senior Biden administration officials tell The Daily Beast, the U.S. seems unlikely to reach herd immunity until after Thanksgiving thanks to supply issues and concerning variants driving up transmission.