COVID-19 Pandemic Brings Health Disparities to the Forefront

The COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened existing health disparities in cancer care. Vaccines may be the next step forward.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened many health disparities, especially in the realm of cancer care, explained Chastity M. Washington.

Washington, the director of center for Cancer Health Equity at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, discussed how the pandemic brought issues around access and barriers to care to the forefront of the health care discussion at the 5th Annual School of Oncology Nursing Annual Meeting.

COVID-19 Limited Health Access

Clinics across the country shut down or limited in-person appointments, relying on telemedicine as a main form of communication between patients and their providers. While some thought it was convenient to see their doctor without leaving home, others struggled with the new model.

“Telemedicine doesn’t work for everyone. If you don’t have internet access, or you don’t have the ability to understand technology… and culturally, some populations just aren’t accustomed to that, and they’d rather see their physician in person,” Washington said in an interview with CURE®.

Additionally, Washington explained, people of color have been majorly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn impacted their cancer outcomes.

“(The impacts) are still being studied as exactly what the extent is, but they’re folks who are in those essential service jobs,” Washington said. “They’re getting COVID-19 more often, they’re using public transportation… the disparities have been compounded even more in the pandemic. We’ve seen job loss, people losing insurance coverage – which also affects access.”

So, while the pandemic affected many people in negative ways, it had an even bigger impact on those who already faced disparities.

Vaccine Hesitancy

The COVID-19 vaccine could help curb the spread of the virus or lessen the health implications of those who get the disease. However, many individuals are hesitant about getting the vaccine, which cause the pandemic to linger longer than it otherwise would if all eligible people got the shot.

“Traditionally in some of these communities, there’s medical mistrust – not always – but it could be a part of it,” said Washington.

Washington addressed the idea that some people have of a tracking microchip being planted in the vaccine.

“I think (that rumor) stemmed from one of the words of one of the ingredients. It was a lipid, but it had the term ‘nano’ in it, so people thought of nanochips and nanotech.”

Those who are apprehensive about getting the vaccine should talk to their health care team about concerns or questions they have. Research has shown that the majority of patients with cancer can – and should – receive the vaccine, unless their doctor says otherwise.

Washington said that clinicians should listen to patients’ concerns without judgement, so patients should not be reluctant to bring them up. Patients should also look to other role models in the community who have received the vaccine.

“Having those role models who have had the vaccine and look like them in the community who haven’t had any negative effects… that’s important,” Washington said.

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