Has race become a primary factor in Biden’s COVID drug distribution policy? - The Jewish Voice
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Monday, January 30, 2023

Has race become a primary factor in Biden’s COVID drug distribution policy?

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By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Following new federal guidelines, New York’s health department has listed being non-White as a major risk factor for COVID-19 due to a history of discrimination against minorities, when instructing who should receive scarce medications for the disease.

In parameters sent out at the end of December regarding the monoclonal antibody drug sotrovimab that has received emergency use authorization, the Biden administration listed “race and ethnicity” as possible factors that could “place individual patients at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19.”

The primary high-risk factors it listed first that would qualify patients for that medication, as well as oral antiviral treatments, were biological rather than social: older age, having several kinds of chronic diseases, being pregnant or obese.

Such people should get the drugs within five days of the onset of symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19, to help them avoid hospitalization.

In a memo to its state health care providers and facilities, New York’s acting health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, flipped the order of priorities, putting race and ethnicity at No. 1, with a reason not stated in the federal guidelines.

“Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19,” she wrote.

A New York City Health Department spokesman explained the logic to the New York Post in an article on January 1.

“New Yorkers of color have borne the brunt of this pandemic due to structural racism and the legacy of disinvestment in many minority communities,” said Michael Lanza. “Doctors are advised to consider the disproportionate impact felt by these communities in addition to systemic health disparities when prescribing treatments for people who are at highest risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

The paper reported that in Staten Island, a doctor who wrote two prescriptions for the antiviral drug Paxlovid said that the pharmacist asked him for his patients’ race before authorizing the medications.

“In my 30 years of being a physician I have never been asked that question when I have prescribed any treatment,” said the doctor, who asked to remain anonymous. “The mere fact of having to ask this question is a slippery slope.”

In the event, the two patients, who were White, did receive their prescriptions.

Utah is also now favoring the race factor in its ranking system to decide who should receive monoclonal antibodies in the state. Those of “non-white race or Hispanic/Latinx ethnicity” get two points automatically added to their “COVID-19 risk score.”

Critics of the policy point out that minorities are over-represented in lower-income jobs that cannot be performed from home, which vastly increases their chances of getting infected. They also cannot afford private health insurance or other means of getting better health care. This, rather than their ethnic origins, has led to their becoming seriously ill or dying of COVID-19 in disproportionate numbers.

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