Vaccine Hesitancy Isn’t a COVID-Specific Phenomenon, Reber Says

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a Milbank article about the deadly consequences of vaccine hesitancy. Thousands of Americans are dying of COVID-19 each day despite the availability of a free vaccine, but widespread and persistent vaccine hesitancy existed even prior to the pandemic, wrote Reber and Cyrus Kosar of Brown University. “Vaccine hesitancy is not a COVID-specific phenomenon and is not unique to Republicans or vocal anti-vaxxers,” they wrote. The authors pointed out that seasonal flu kills tens of thousands annually, yet only about a third of adults between 18 and 49 get an annual flu shot. Research shows that younger and low-risk individuals, those who perceive vaccines to be less effective, the less educated, the uninsured, and racial and ethnic minorities are consistently less likely to get vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu. “Serious investment in research on how to reach the vaccine-hesitant is long overdue,” they concluded.

Reber on Link Between High COVID Risk and Vaccine Hesitancy

Quartz spoke with Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber about her study finding that the political environment outside a skilled nursing facility did not strongly predict the likelihood that its residents were vaccinated against COVID-19. Politics might be expected to seep into nursing home environments, Reber said, especially because many of the residents suffer from cognitive decline and have substitute decision-makers — often adult children and other family members who live nearby — who must give consent before a resident can be inoculated. Reber said the extreme threat COVID-19 poses to older adults could be one factor at play. “It does seem like the higher the risk, the less politicized vaccination is,” she said. In an article for Brookings, Reber and co-author Cyrus Kosar of Brown University also found wide disparities in states’ effectiveness in delivering life-saving vaccines, including flu shots, to nursing home residents, but the reason for this gap is unclear.

Reber on Nursing Homes, Booster Shots and Politics

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article that used a political lens to view COVID-19 vaccination rates at nursing homes. “Vaccination for nursing home residents has not been politicized as much as for younger populations,” Reber found. Nursing home staff and residents have been slow to get COVID booster shots since the CDC first recommended them for high-risk populations in September. However, Reber found that booster uptake among nursing home residents has not been strongly politicized the way it has in the general population. Instead, she noted that “pre-pandemic flu vaccination rates for nursing home residents, which was highly correlated with initial vaccination rates, continues to be a strong predictor of the share receiving boosters for COVID-19.” Reber highlighted the importance of boosting nursing home residents and staff in order to reduce the impact of the Omicron variant.

Reber Highlights Educational Disparities in New Publication

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber collaborated with Nora Gordon of Georgetown University on “Addressing Inequities in the US K-12 Education System,” a chapter of the Aspen Economic Strategy Group publication “Rebuilding the Post-Pandemic Economy.” Reber and Gordon explore disparities in educational outcomes by race, ethnicity, economic disadvantage and disability. “American public schools do not successfully prepare all students for careers or college,” they wrote. “Despite decades of federal and state policy reforms and major philanthropic investments, there are still glaring deficiencies and inequities across the US K-12 education system.” Reducing inequities in American education “will require a renewed focus on the ‘fundamentals’ of the K-12 system, including an emphasis on how staff are trained, recruited, retained and supported in their work; the effective design of curriculum; and the maintenance of safe and healthy school buildings,” they wrote. In the chapter, Reber and Gordon highlight three principles to guide future efforts to improve K-12 schools: First, they recommend focusing on the key elements of how to effectively deliver educational content to all students, including class size, access to necessary technologies and supplies, and a strong core curriculum. Next, they suggest increasing the emphasis on vulnerable students, including students with disabilities, English learners and American Indian students. Finally, they note that school leaders should encourage the thoughtful adoption of strategies that have been shown to work. “We should learn from past efforts to improve the impact of educational policy and philanthropy going forward, with careful attention to strengthening the research base,” they concluded.

Reber Assesses Federal COVID-19 Aid for Schools

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a new working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research assessing the federal relief bills created for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper, a joint project by Reber and Nora Gordon, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, explored whether federal COVID relief funds for schools were sufficient. Congress responded to the disruptions caused by the pandemic by distributing $200 billion in federal aid for schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. While this amount is about 12 times more than the typical level of funding distributed through Title I, Reber noted that the amount of per-pupil federal aid that schools received varied considerably across districts. For example, some districts in Detroit received $6,000 per pupil while districts like nearby Bloomfield Hills received less than $100 per pupil. The authors pointed out that different districts faced different costs for COVID-19 mitigation and recovery. Reber and Gordon estimated the net fiscal impact of COVID-19 and the federal relief by taking into consideration how much COVID-19 affected costs for schools, how those costs depend on child poverty rates, and the effect of the pandemic on state aid to school districts. Federal aid was distributed based on Title I proportions, sending more money per pupil to higher-poverty districts. “Low-poverty districts are therefore projected to face some budgetary shortfalls, while many higher-poverty districts are projected to have excess funds, which they could direct towards long-standing challenges,” Reber explained. — Zoe Day

Reber on Facts and Inaccuracies in UC Admissions Debate

Articles in the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed cited Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber’s efforts to clarify misleading statements about the University of California’s admissions policies. Both articles were written in rebuttal to an Atlantic story arguing that the UC system’s decision to phase out the use of SAT and ACT scores in fact discriminates against poor students of color. The Atlantic article “bootstrapped complex admissions data and procedures into a hot take that cooled upon inspection,” according to the Washington Post opinion piece, which pointed to Reber’s work as a factually accurate explanation of the admissions process. Reber, an authority on the economics of education policy, also weighed in on social media to counter incomplete or erroneous information. Inside Higher Ed called on public universities to do more to shore up public faith in their mission, both by aggressively countering false narratives and by upending a culture that prizes selectivity and prestige in admissions.


Reber Addresses Inequalities in School Funding

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a commentary in The Hill about the need for more equitable distribution of federal funding for schools. Congress has increased school funding in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with aid distributed using a formula laid out in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which sends more money to high-poverty schools. However, Reber and Nora Gordon of Georgetown University argued that “funding under the program is not a clean proxy for economic disadvantage.” They recommended turning to “simpler and better alternatives for distributing much-needed additional funding for school infrastructure and to address educational inequities.” The Title I formula has created confusion and political pushback; for example, it directs more funding per student to larger districts compared to smaller ones with the same child poverty rate. “It is past time for Congress to address these concerns with additional funding distributed with an eye to equity,” they concluded.

Reber, Akee on COVID-19’s Devastation of Native Populations

Associate Professors of Public Policy Randall Akee and Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article about the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations. Research has found that AIAN people are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates and at younger ages than other groups, with a death rate comparable to white people 20 to 30 years older. Akee and Reber noted that accurate data on this population is lacking because of difficulty estimating the size of small communities and miscategorization of AIAN people as other races and ethnicities. Nevertheless, available data shows that the age-adjusted mortality rate is higher for AIAN people than for any other group, and it is more than double the death rate for whites and Asians. Reber and Akee argued that the history of racism against Native populations underscores the importance of prioritizing the vaccination of American Indians and Alaska Natives of all ages as soon as possible.

Reber Points to Racial Inequity in Vaccine Distribution

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber was featured in a ProPublica article about how to make the COVID-19 vaccine rollout more racially equitable. In some locations, people 75 and older have been prioritized in the vaccine distribution, a strategy that ignores the fact that Black Americans have a shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts and are therefore less likely to receive the vaccine. Research has also shown that Black people who die from COVID-19 are, on average, about 10 years younger than white victims. “If you [allocate the vaccine] strictly by age, you’re going to vaccinate white people who have lower risks before you vaccinate Black people with higher risks,” Reber explained. “If you’re trying to avert deaths, you would want to vaccinate Blacks who are about 10 years younger than whites.” The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black Americans is expected to further exacerbate the life expectancy gap between Black and white Americans.

COVID-19 Doesn’t Only Threaten the Elderly, Reber Says

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber spoke to the Dallas Morning News about the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 deaths on Latino and Black communities in Texas. While many believe that COVID-19 threatens just the elderly, working-age adults in Texas’ Latino and Black communities are dying at rates many times higher than those of whites, according the the story, which was reprinted nationally. “That discussion of ‘Oh, it’s all the really old people’ — that’s a white people’s story,” Reber said. The disparities in COVID-19 deaths have gone largely underreported because health experts were not initially focused on them. However, there are significant differences in the death toll when separated by age and ethnicity. In Texas, the COVID-19 death rate for Hispanics among those ages 25 to 64 is four times as high as that of non-Hispanic whites. Furthermore, Blacks in that age group are dying at more than twice the rate of white people.