Study Finds Challenges in Identifying Smaller At-Risk Groups for Pandemic Relief

Delivering COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic relief to certain small ethnic populations in California may be a particular challenge for a somewhat ironic reason: Many members of those groups do not live in neighborhoods that have been identified as being highly vulnerable to virus transmission. A new UCLA study looked at five ethnic groups — American Indians, Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, Filipinos and Koreans — which, current data suggests, have higher-than-average rates of COVID-19 infections or deaths. Led by Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, the study examined four data models that public policy and health policy officials typically rely on to decide how to distribute resources. Researchers found that the models do not properly consider factors such as underlying racial inequities and socioeconomic status. “The data we’ve been compiling show that Pacific Islander and other smaller Asian groups are two to three times more likely than non-Latinx white workers to be essential workers, who are at a higher risk of being exposed during a pandemic,” said Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, a partner in the study. “But they have received less attention because their numbers are fewer.” The study concluded that officials should look beyond geographic measures to address specific pandemic-related goals and relief efforts. “It would be great to pinpoint for state and local policymakers where the vaccines should go to help these vulnerable populations,” Ong said. ”Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, because they are a hidden diaspora and not tied to a geographic place.” — Elaiza Torralba


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