Black Iowa Nurse Vaccinated against COVID-19 Amid Bumpy Rollout, Equity Issues

A nurse who received the Moderna vaccine is ‘eager for the rest of the population’ to get vaccinated.

When Monica Goodlett’s pastor casually voiced support for the COVID-19 vaccine, Goodlett not only listened, she took action.

Goodlett, an RN who earned her B.A. in nursing in 2005 and who is working on her master’s degree, had researched the vaccines but said she wasn’t going to get it “for all the same reasons as everybody else.” She had questions about its safety, if it was rushed, its ingredients and “some apprehension due to the history of experimentation and mistreatment.” Ultimately the approval of Bishop Dwight Reed of Christ Apostolic Temple in Des Moines nudged her.

“I trust my pastor. Just in the little something that he said it was like OK, maybe I need to think about this differently and look at this again,” said Goodlett, a hospital floor nurse for 17 years, who received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine in December and the second dose last week.

Blacks made up 5% of 13 million people vaccinated against COVID-19 between Dec. 14 and Jan.14, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet Blacks experience an unequal share of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, which spark equity concerns.

In Iowa, 1.13% of the vaccine doses administered went to someone Black like Goodlett, according to Iowa’s Vaccine Administration Dashboard. For comparison, 3.71% of Iowa’s population is Black. Meaning that Black Iowans continue to be impacted by COVID-19 while others are vaccinated. 

Goodlett is doing her part to help more Blacks consider the vaccine. Since social media is rife with conspiracy theories and misinformation about the vaccine, Goodlett has shared her experiences on Facebook to provide accurate information, a nudge — and something else. 

“I felt that it was meaningful to post so that people can see somebody who is Black, who is a nurse,” she said. “A good portion of the people know me so they know I think about what I'm doing, and I’m going to research why before I actually do something of that magnitude.”

President Joe Biden’s administration wants more people to be vaccinated, but hurdles exist. The medical profession’s history of experimentation, like, the Tuskegee syphilis study and other instances of experimentation, has contributed to Blacks’ skepticism and hesitancy around the vaccine. Studies also show Blacks are systematically undertreated for pain compared to whites. And, during the coronavirus pandemic, Blacks have been turned away from hospitals, like Dr. Susan Moore who died after complaining of racist treatment, and another who allegedly died in a hospital parking lot after repeatedly being denied treatment.

Gordon Goodwin, director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity at Race Forward, a national non-profit racial justice organization, said the history of the medical profession in communities of color is one that contains “a lot of trauma and damage as well.”

That makes pandemic and vaccine data analysis even more critical, he said.

“Every time we make decisions, we have to be very aware of the implications, and if we think we're making decisions that don't have implications, but we're not collecting data about who's likely to receive the benefit and who's not receiving the benefit or likely not to receive it and don't disaggregate that by race, we're bound to make some assumptions that have us contributing to racialized outcomes,” he said.

The issues plaguing the nation’s pandemic vaccine rollout include concerns about the supply, delivery speed, number of vaccination sites and racial equity in distribution. Biden has acknowledged the concerns and taken steps to combat the issues through the creation of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force on vaccine inequality, increasing the vaccine supply and developing a pharmacy distribution plan, among other strategies. Read Biden’s fact sheet here.

Nationally, more than 26.5 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 since the coronavirus pandemic began, and 447,000 people have died.

Nearly 55.9 million vaccine doses have been distributed, with 33.8 million doses administered to Americans, according to the CDC, but equity concerns have emerged.

  • A CNN analysis found vaccine coverage is twice as high among whites than Blacks and Latinos.

  • An Associated Press analysis found in some states that even though Blacks made up a greater share of health care workers, they are “getting inoculated at levels below their share of the general population, in some cases significantly below.”

  • According to the Columbus Dispatch, fewer than 5% of Ohio residents who’ve gotten at least one injection are Black, although Black Ohioans made up 20% of the state’s pandemic hospitalizations and 12% of deaths.

  • “Unless precautions are taken, vaccine administration is likely to enhance the already large health disparities between different racial groups,” wrote Elaine Kamarack, a senior fellow in governance studies for the Brookings Institution. “The District of Columbia has addressed some of these issues by prioritizing vaccine signups by the rate of COVID-19 infections in particular zip codes. Thus, the hardest-hit zip codes, which also tend to have a greater proportion of people of color and front-line workers, are offered vaccines before the wealthier, whiter zip codes where COVID-19 cases are lower.” 

  • Race and ethnicity data is missing for nearly half of vaccine recipients, according to the Washington Post.

“So let me be clear: We cannot ensure an equitable vaccination program without data to guide us,” said Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force during Monday’s COVID-19 Response Team Briefing. “The CDC will be releasing additional data regarding race and ethnicity . . . but I’m worried about how behind we are. We must address these insufficient data points as an urgent priority.”

In the briefing, Nunez-Smith said figures from the CDC show Blacks are 2.9 times more likely than whites to require hospitalization, and 2.1 times more likely than whites to die from COVID-19.

Iowa is currently in Phase 1B of its vaccine distribution plan, which includes vaccinating health care workers, educators and Iowans over the age of 65. According to Iowa’s COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard:

  • 275,706 doses have been administered in Iowa.

  • 137,242 Iowans have received one dose.

  • 69,232 Iowans have received both doses.

  • 1.13% of vaccine doses administered have gone to Blacks

Sarah Anne Willette, chief data officer for the Iowa COVID-19 Tracker, an independent COVID-19 tracking site Willette founded, said even before the pandemic, Iowa didn’t provide raw data totals due to rules about how to display raw data in states with low population density to protect disadvantaged groups, Willette said, via email.

“Is it the right way to display the data during a pandemic? I argue no due to the fact that we need transparent data that can show granularity for counties and population,” said Willette, who is creating special population charts on Iowa COVID-19 Tracker to show how certain groups, including people of color, have been more negatively affected than others groups.

In Ohio, the vaccine dashboard disaggregates the data by race and lists the total number of each racial group that received the vaccine, and its percentage of the state’s population, based on U.S. Census data.

The Iowa Department of Health didn’t immediately respond to two emails seeking comment before Black Iowa News’ deadline.

The rollout and distribution haven’t been efficient, Goodlett said, and she has identified other problems.

“There has not been a push in public service announcements and educational offerings targeting our community,” she said. “Knowledge and education are key, and they are going to have to push it and constantly dispel the myths and misinformation to persuade our community, as well as provide the resources so they can read and research for themselves.”

Goodwin said states must go beyond simply delivering the vaccine through existing channels, like medical facilities, and instead determine the barriers people of color face and examine their needs. Without it, “then you're going to miss out on the insights about where you can actually find an effective partner for getting the vaccine to people, and far too often that discussion is taking place without those who are most significantly impacted,” he said.

Being Fully Vaccinated is ‘Awesome’

The first shot “felt like somebody punched me really good,” Goodlett said.

“The next day was pretty significant,” she said. “It was pretty sore but nothing that would stop me from doing any of my normal activities.”

Goodlett said she experienced less arm soreness with the second shot, but also experienced a slight headache, body aches, some nausea and tiredness.

“It’s awesome to have the shots completed,” she said. “Not sure how long immunity will last, but I’m happy that I have some protection and a better chance to fight it if I do ever contract it.”

She’s hopeful once enough people get vaccinated, things can return to normal and her family can take a vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida.

“I’m just eager for the rest of the population to receive theirs,” she said, of the vaccine. “It’s frustrating to watch the rollout when I know we can do better than this (by inoculating people in a) more organized fashion.”


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