Editor’s note: This letter was submitted anonymously to TNR.
Gov. Phil Scott’s thin-skinned response to criticism of his decision to grant Vermont’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community preferential access to COVID-19 vaccines is fraught with deceptive rhetoric and misrepresentation of data in its attempt to justify the racist and potentially unconstitutional policy.
In the April 5 press release, Scott stated that his office had been “subjected to vitriolic and inappropriate comments in social media and other forums regarding this decision” to use race as a criterion in vaccine distribution. In defense of the decision, Scott points to an “unacceptable disparity” in the pace of vaccination for Vermonters who are BIPOC. According to the press release, 20.2% of Vermont’s BIPOC population has received at least one dose of vaccine, in comparison to 33.4% of non-Hispanic Whites.
What Scott fails to acknowledge is that the disparity is the direct result of his own policies. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau — the sort of data one would presumably consider when planning, say, a vaccine rollout — the estimated median age of non-Hispanic White Vermonters is 44.5. In contrast, the median ages of Vermont’s three largest racial and ethnic minorities — Black/African American, two or more races, and Hispanic — are estimated at 29.6, 24.8, and 23.3, respectively. In light of the census data, the rate of vaccination for BIPOC Vermonters is a predictable consequence of the age-based distribution model implemented by Scott prior to April 1st. To suggest that the disparity is somehow the result of systemic racism is not merely deceptive, it is transparently false.
As further justification for his decision, Scott cites an “increased risk of hospitalization” for the BIPOC community (specific figures are not provided). In reality, research shows that the risk of hospitalization for Black and Hispanic COVID patients is similar to that of White patients. Although the same study found that individuals who are Black or Hispanic tested positive for COVID with greater frequency than Whites, the Mayo Clinic reports that there is “no evidence that people of color have genetic or other biological factors that make them more likely to be affected by COVID-19.” (Race is, after all, a social construct.) Instead, the higher rates of infection among people of color can largely be attributed to other known risk factors, such as preexisting health conditions, frequent person-to-person contact on the job, and limited access to health care — all of which are correlated with lower socioeconomic status.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that wages for most racial and ethnic minority groups in Vermont are lower than wages for non-Hispanic Whites. Regardless, lower socioeconomic status is hardly unique to Vermonters who are BIPOC. The use of race to determine vaccine eligibility effectively denies appropriate medical care to White Vermonters of lower socioeconomic status — who are subject to the same risk factors as many BIPOC Vermonters — on the basis of their race. That is simply unethical.
Governor Scott could begin to address this newly-created racial disparity — again, the result of his own policies — by making all frontline workers eligible for vaccination, as many other states have already done. Instead, Scott has opted to engage in virtue-signalling to the Woke Left at the expense of some of his most vulnerable constituents. The low-wage frontline workers who have kept Vermont’s economy afloat during the pandemic — not out of bravery, but out of economic necessity — must continue to wait until their age group becomes eligible to receive a vaccine. Unless, of course, they’re BIPOC.
The struggle of the working poor is real. So is racism. Unfortunately, Scott’s conflation of race with socioeconomic status prevents him from addressing either issue appropriately, and it is our neighbors who will ultimately pay the price.
Scott’s fixation on race will continue to have consequences far beyond the vaccination effort. His decision in 2019 to appoint Vermont’s first Executive Director of Racial Equity — a position tasked with overseeing all three branches of state government, with no accountability to the electorate — raises the question of who is really driving the bus on the vaccine rollout. Now that Scott has let the critical race genie out of the proverbial bottle, he’ll have a hard time getting it back in.