A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in New York, May 12, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
A white New Hampshire resident who was refused a COVID-19 vaccine by the state earlier this year because he is not a person of color and thus did not meet its “equity” requirements has filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) and Boyden Gray & Associates filed the complaint on Tuesday on behalf of the unnamed 28-year-old man, who was unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in April despite having diabetes and therefore being at “elevated medical risk to COVID-19,” according to the complaint.
When the man called the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley in Lebanon, N.H. to schedule a shot, he was informed that they were “only serving people of color” at that time, in line with the state’s equitable vaccine distribution policies.
Meanwhile, the complaint says appointments at a vaccination clinic held by the Public Health Council were reserved for people who identify as “Black, Indigenous or people of color,” regardless of whether those individuals were at an elevated risk for severe COVID-19. The Dartmouth college newspaper reported that the clinic provided vaccinations to young Asian college students despite denying vaccination to those at high risk.
“No one seeking medical care should ever be sent to the back of the line because of their race, but that is exactly what the state of New Hampshire did with COVID-19 vaccinations. HHS must investigate and hold New Hampshire accountable for its blatantly illegal discrimination,” said Rachel Morrison, an attorney and policy analyst for EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project.
The complaint notes that the state has received “substantial funds” from the federal government, including over $500 million from HHS to administer its health programs and $43 million to support vaccination specifically.
“Using these funds in a discriminatory manner is a violation of federal law, as New Hampshire is well aware,” the complaint reads. “The state’s official COVID-19 resource website linked to HHS’s March 2020 Bulletin which states that civil rights laws are not suspended during the pandemic and that ‘our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life.’”
It notes that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibit racial discrimination in HHS-funded programs and argues that HHS’s Office for Civil Rights has a responsibility to investigate the complaint.
The complaint asks the Office of Civil Rights to “seek a binding voluntary resolution agreement with all the guilty parties.”
“This agreement should include appropriate remedial action, training, and ongoing monitoring of respondents by your office,” the complaint adds.
It demands that HHS stop funding the state and the public health council until it receives a written guarantee that they won’t discriminate on the basis of race.
“Although it is unclear if the state continues to discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, at least as late as June 27, 2021, the state’s main COVID vaccine website continued to state that ‘appointments are limited’ and ‘dependent on [vaccine] supply,’ which left open the door to state discriminating against whites,” the complaint adds.
Attorney Michael Buschbacher said the state’s “racially discriminatory vaccination program is a disaster.”
“The health officials responsible have done grave harm both to the vulnerable people forced to wait for a life-saving vaccine because of their skin color and to the practice of medicine,” he said. “New Hampshire’s guilt is gin clear, and HHS needs to take prompt and aggressive action to ensure that such illegal discrimination never happens again.”
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