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White House COVID-19 coordinator: Administration focused on expanding vaccine access

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The head of the White House COVID-19 response effort said Sunday that the Biden administration was continuing to work to expand access to vaccines around the country, while rebuking “unacceptable” inequity in some areas.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Jeff Zients responded to data showing that in many cities across the U.S. including Washington D.C., Black and other minority residents living in areas of high COVID-19 transmission and deaths are facing a tougher time getting their shot as opposed to white and wealthier residents.

“What you’re showing in Washington D.C. exists in too many parts of the country, and that is unacceptable,” Zients said.

“Communities of color have been hit disproportionally hard by this disease, suffering death rates twice the average. So it’s really, really important that when we come to vaccine distribution that we do it in a fair and equitable way,” he continued, adding: “The situation that you’re describing is not fair and equitable.”

Zients went on to tout the work the White House has done so far to expand the U.S.’s overall supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and pledged that the administration would work to hold local leaders “accountable” for making sure everyone had fair access to a vaccine.

“When we walked into office six, seven weeks ago, there was not enough supply and it was pushed much further out. The actions by the president, including using the Defense Production Act and bringing Merck and Johnson & Johnson together into a historic partnership have accelerated our ability to have enough vaccine by the end of May for all adult Americans,” he said.

As for the distribution process, the White House is “holding states and governors accountable for fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine,” Zients said.

An investigation from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) Racial Equity and Health Policy Program in January found that major gaps exist on racial lines when it comes to the U.S.’s vaccine rollout. In particular, it found Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to get sick or die from COVID-19, but make up a disproportionately small share of the vaccinated population.

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