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Nearly three months into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Philadelphia has made headway on closing the gaps, but racial, economic and geographic disparities persist, according to a Billy Penn analysis.
Roughly 3 in 10 people in wealthier downtown areas have already received their first dose. A few miles away, in a predominantly Black pocket of Southwest Philly, the rate plummets to only about 3 out of 50 residents — the lowest ratio among the city’s ZIP codes, as of this week.
Distribution data published by the Health Department has painted a stark portrait of the haves and have nots since the first vials arrived in Philadelphia mid-December.
Reasons for the persistent inequities are numerous, including limited supply, language barriers, transportation issues, and spotty data collection, along with registration systems that have allowed suburban residents to secure a large chunk of the city’s allotted doses.
The good news: Data shows progress on several of these fronts. Scroll down for our latest breakdown, which will be updated regularly to reflect new information.
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What’s changed? Pace is picking up in lower-income neighborhoods
As of March 10, organizations across the city had given more than 308,000 people a first dose, and fully vaccinated nearly 127,000.
Officials and advocates raised alarm about the razor-sharp divide between Philadelphia communities back in January, when a quarter as many people had come through the system. At that point, Black people had received just 12% of Philly’s doses, despite the city’s population being about 44% Black.
Data shows some change, especially in the last two weeks, which have brought the opening of several city-run neighborhood clinics and the Center City Vaccination Center, where FEMA helps inoculate close to 6,000 each day. Currently, city records show Black people make up 24% of women getting Philly’s vaccine, and 22% of men.
As recently as late February, the five lowest-income ZIP codes in the city — predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods — ranked on the lowest end of the dose distribution totem pole.
The last two weeks have seen the geographic disparity improve. Some of the most impoverished areas have doubled or tripled the percent of residents who’ve gotten the shot. Fairhill’s 19133 ZIP code, for example, went from 250 doses per 10k residents to more than 700 doses per 10k.
Health officials say this is by design. When scheduling appointments for the FEMA vaccination clinic, health Department staff prioritize areas that have lower rates, according to spokesperson Jim Garrow.
“We pull from the vaccine interest list and oversample, almost exclusively, the lowest vaccinated ZIP codes in the city,” Garrow said. “We’re sending invitations to those ZIP codes — and that fills up most of the appointments.”
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What needs to be done? A third of Philly doses still go to non-residents
Even lower-income ZIP codes where there’s been improvement still sit far behind the city’s more well-off areas, the data shows.
Center City and Northwest Philadelphia retain the highest vaccination rates, while deeply poor areas of North and Southwest Philadelphia rank among the worst.
Many people who meet eligibility criteria still report difficulty getting appointments at vaccine clinics. The number of outlets providing the jab has grown from a handful in mid-January to more than 130 as of early March. Venues range from chain pharmacies to health care systems to community vaccination sites like the one run in partnership with FEMA. This week, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the addition of five new neighborhood clinics, adding to three already in operation.
Perhaps the most notable recent change: an increase in the amount of vaccine coming through the city. In late February, Health Commissioner Tom Farley said the limiting factor in getting Philly vaccinated had shifted from supply to distribution.
Thanks in part to the FEMA site, which comes with its own CDC allocation, the number of doses given out across the city has skyrocketed. First dose administration more than doubled over the past month — from about 130,000 given on Feb. 9 to more than 300,000 on March 9.
Officials are also trying to clamp down on suburban residents registering for shots in the city limits, though providers are being advised to follow the CDC’s guidance to be lax about residency requirements because in general, the more people vaccinated, the better.
Two weeks ago, about 56% of Philly’s doses went into the arms of city residents. As of this week, that figure has increased to 65%.
Other issues that could be distorting the big picture when it comes to equity: data collection. Across Pennsylvania, municipalities have struggled to maintain consistent records with regard to patient demographics, Spotlight PA recently reported.
Philadelphia appears to be doing better than several other counties, even those with their own health departments, although the city is still missing data, with at least 3% of doses going to people of unknown race or ethnicity.