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Racial, Ethnic, and Rural Disparities in US Veteran COVID-19 Vaccine Rates.

Bernstein E, DeRycke EC, Han L, Farmer MM, Bastian LA, Bean-Mayberry B, Bade B, Brandt C, Crothers K, Skanderson M, Ruser C, Spelman J, Bazan IS, Justice AC, Rentsch CT, Akgün KM. Racial, Ethnic, and Rural Disparities in US Veteran COVID-19 Vaccine Rates. AJPM focus. 2023 Mar 24; 2(3):100094.

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BACKGROUND: Race, ethnicity, and rurality-related disparities in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine uptake have been documented in the United States (US). OBJECTIVE: We determined whether these disparities existed among patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the largest healthcare system in the US. DESIGN SETTINGS PARTICIPANTS MEASUREMENTS: Using VA Corporate Data Warehouse data, we included 5,871,438 patients (9.4% women) with at least one primary care visit in 2019 in a retrospective cohort study. Each patient was assigned a single race/ethnicity, which were mutually exclusive, self-reported categories. Rurality was based on 2019 home address at the zip code level. Our primary outcome was time-to-first COVID-19 vaccination between December 15, 2020-June 15, 2021. Additional covariates included age (in years), sex, geographic region (North Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast, Pacific, Continental), smoking status (current, former, never), Charlson Comorbidity Index (based on = 1 inpatient or two outpatient ICD codes), service connection (any/none, using standardized VA-cutoffs for disability compensation), and influenza vaccination in 2019-2020 (yes/no). RESULTS: Compared with unvaccinated patients, those vaccinated (n = 3,238,532; 55.2%) were older (mean age in years vaccinated = 66.3, (standard deviation = 14.4) vs. unvaccinated = 57.7, (18.0), p < .0001)). They were more likely to identify as Black (18.2% vs. 16.1%, p < .0001), Hispanic (7.0% vs. 6.6% p < .0001), or Asian American/Pacific Islander (AA/PI) (2.0% vs. 1.7%, P < .0001). In addition, they were more likely to reside in urban settings (68.0% vs. 62.8, p < .0001). Relative to non-Hispanic White urban Veterans, the reference group for race/ethnicity-urban/rural hazard ratios reported, all urban race/ethnicity groups were associated with increased likelihood for vaccination except American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) groups. Urban Black groups were 12% more likely (Hazard Ratio (HR) = 1.12 [CI 1.12-1.13]) and rural Black groups were 6% more likely to receive a first vaccination (HR = 1.06 [1.05-1.06]) relative to white urban groups. Urban Hispanic, AA/PI and Mixed groups were more likely to receive vaccination while rural members of these groups were less likely (Hispanic: Urban HR = 1.17 [1.16-1.18], Rural HR = 0.98 [0.97-0.99]; AA/PI: Urban HR = 1.22 [1.21-1.23], Rural HR = 0.86 [0.84-0.88]). Rural White Veterans were 21% less likely to receive an initial vaccine compared with urban White Veterans (HR = 0.79 [0.78-0.79]). AI/AN groups were less likely to receive vaccination regardless of rurality: Urban HR = 0.93 [0.91-0.95]; AI/AN-Rural HR = 0.76 [0.74-0.78]. CONCLUSIONS: Urban Black, Hispanic, and AA/PI Veterans were more likely than their urban White counterparts to receive a first vaccination; all rural race/ethnicity groups except Black patients had lower likelihood for vaccination compared with urban White patients. A better understanding of disparities and rural outreach will inform equitable vaccine distribution.

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