Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has declared racism a “serious public health threat.”
In a post on the CDC’s website, Walensky writes about the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on communities of color, “communities that have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths, and where the social impact of the pandemic has been most extreme,” she writes.
“Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19,” she wrote. “Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism.”
She continued: “What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they gather in community.”
The post notes that the American Public Health Association has created an interactive map that depicts the more than 170 declarations of racism as a public health crisis or emergency nationwide.
Walensky said the CDC will continue studying the impact of social determinants on health outcomes to “expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health.” The agency is also launching a “Racism and Health” web portal “as part of our ongoing commitment to serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health, and to be accountable for our progress.”
The CDC will also use COVID-19 funding to establish a “durable infrastructure that will provide the foundation and resources to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.”
The agency is growing its internal efforts to “foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all,” she said.
“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” Walensky wrote. “We must recognize that we are working to overcome centuries of discrimination. We will only be successful in undoing the entrenched systemic and structural barriers if we work in collaboration with our public health partners, and deeply within our communities, across the country.”
The post comes one month after the director vowed to prioritize “equity” in “everything we do” at the health agency, two days after it released a report showing that there are disparities in vaccination rates between various racial and socioeconomic demographics.
The Biden administration has focused on creating equity in its vaccine distribution plans. However, a CDC report published last month that analyzed the first 2.5 months of the country’s vaccine data showed the U.S. falling short in meeting its goal.
“I can promise you as long as this team of people are here, as long as I am here, we will bake into the cake of everything we do our commitment to equity, to science and to bring back the health to the American people and to keep it there,” she said during President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta, Ga last month.