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Pa. vaccinations reinforce a stark racial divide


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 26, 2021
Vaccine inequity, power struggle, fracking rules, security situation, hot-button issues, cell breaks, and tuna ta-ta. It's Wednesday. Thanks for stopping by.
A significant equity gap in vaccinations persists six months into Pennsylvania's rollout, a Spotlight PA analysis has found, reflecting racial disparities seen throughout the pandemic here. 

About 73% of people who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the state outside of Philadelphia are white, while 4% are Black and 4% are Hispanic. Philadelphia, where the local health department is handling the vaccination effort, is seeing a similar disparity.

While it’s impossible to directly compare population numbers and state vaccine data — 398,000 non-residents are included in the count — experts say communities of color, especially among those whose work requires contact with other people, suffer higher exposure risks with less protection.

Dr. Usama Bilal, an assistant professor in epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University, said that combination paints "a very worrisome picture."

THE CONTEXT: The Wolf administration has faced criticism for not prioritizing specialized approaches to reach communities of color and non-English speakers from the start of the pandemic.

It also faced criticism for failing to ensure the wholesale collection of race and ethnicity data needed to inform and target its pandemic response.

Even as the vaccine rollout ramped up earlier this year, Spotlight PA reported that the state did not have plans for targeted outreach in communities that do not speak English. Now, advocates say they're left playing catch up as they work to overcome barriers and a lack of resources and education around vaccines. 

"It's like starting from scratch," George Fernandez, the CEO and founder of Latino Connection, told Spotlight PA. "It's like starting in October of last year."

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"They were done. They didn't want to come back."

—Randy Pullen, a spokesperson for Arizona's privately funded 2020 election audit, on Pennsylvania-based Wake TSI's withdrawal from the project
VACCINE UPDATE: Uber and Lyft will offer free rides to COVID-19 vaccine appointments through July 4, the date by which President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Thanks, @youbetkev, for this sunshine shot from Bucks County. There's a chance of rain in the statewide forecast today. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

EMERGENCY ROLLBACK: Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature have moved to nullify portions of Gov. Tom Wolf's COVID-19 disaster declaration and prevent further business closures, the move coming one week after primary voters backed giving them more emergency control. Spotlight PA reports Wolf called the vote "a discouraging development," while other Democrats challenged the GOP's timing.

FRACK BILLS: State Democrats and Attorney General Josh Shapiro want to amend Pennsylvania's oil and gas law to expand no-drill zones, give the AG primary jurisdiction over oil and gas companies, require disclosures of fracking chemicals, and more. State Sen. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming) called the legislative package a "wish list" and an effort to "peddle misinformation," per the Beaver County Times.

SECURITY FEE: U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R., Pa.) has been fined $5,000 for violating security protocols put in place after the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. According to The Hill, two Capitol Police security officers reported Smucker walked by their metal detectors and ignored them when they tried to get him to complete the security screening. Smucker's office said he'll appeal the fine, which the House's Democratic majority put in place. 

PARTY-LINE VOTES: Bills restricting abortion access and expanding gun rights were advanced by Republican state lawmakers this week, the AP reports. The bills would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, prohibit abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis, allow anyone 18 and older to carry a firearm without a permit, and make it easier to sue over local gun laws. Democrats are opposed.

JAIL FINES: A federal judge has given Philadelphia jails until June 10 to prove they're letting people out of cells three hours a day, a COVID-era concession required by a January court order. If not, they'll be fined $10,000 a day with that amount doubling every two weeks until the city complies, The Inquirer reports. Elsewhere, visitation is resuming at five state prison facilities for the first time in a year, per TribLIVE. 

BEER BUZZ: An "Instagram upheaval" spanning allegations of harassment, sexism, and racism in Pennsylvania's craft beer industry has embroiled Tired Hands Brewing Company's founder, Evil Genius Beer's co-owner, and led a Philly Loves Beer board member to resign in protest, per The Inquirer.

MARATHON MAYOR: At 93, West Homestead Mayor John Dindak is probably the oldest mayor in the state, per KDKA-TV. He's also one of the longest-serving, having first taken office in 1972. "It gives me something to do since I retired from U.S. Steel," said Dindak, who's running for four more years.

MISSED TRAIN: Bad news for Lebanon residents excited about the possible return of passenger rail service amid a planned Amtrak expansion. A rep says a return after 58 years is not in the cards, but service is being added in Allentown and Reading, Lebtown reports. 

TUNA TOWN: Pennsylvania is losing its tuna fish connection. Starkist is pulling up stakes (or steaks) and moving its headquarters south to Virginia, TribLIVE reports. The company was acquired by the former H.J. Heinz Co. in 1963 and has been a Pittsburgh boomeranger before. 

BIG BUCKS: Pennsylvania's $516 million winning Mega Millions lotto ticket was sold at a 7-Eleven in Levittown, Bucks County, the Pennsylvania Lottery reports. Per Lehigh Valley Live, it's the ninth-largest Mega Millions jackpot win ever and the third largest in Pennsylvania since 2010. 
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Vocabulary

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Nichole H., Irene R., Neal W., Becky C., Bette G., Scott A., Kevin H., Fred O., Susan D., Carol D., David I., Ronald T., Theodore W., Karen W., Chris M., James B., Al M., Christine M., Joan S., Patricia M., Craig W., Don H., Barbara G., Beth T., Steve D., Gayle W., Dennis M., Meg M., Bill C., Heidi B., Suzanne S., Diane P., George S., Dixie S., Gwen B., Guy M., Mary Kay M., Elayne B., Bob R., Dianne K., Jill A., Kenneth J., David W., Richard D., Adrien M., Tish M., Gail H., Joel S., Daniel M., Michelle T., Myles M., Elizabeth W., Johnny C., Skip B., Patricia R., Bruce B., and Jeanette L.
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