Alaska News

New Alaska data traces disproportionate experiences of COVID-19 by race, gender and vaccination status

Recently released state COVID-19 data offers insight into how Alaskans have been affected by the virus and which groups have seen the most severe impacts.

In a report published last week by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, researchers looked at coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state through September.

Much of that data strongly supports what researchers have previously observed in Alaska and around the country: clear, race-based disparities affecting who gets COVID-19, who is hospitalized for it and who dies.

Alaska Native people make up just 16% of the state’s total population but have accounted for 29% of COVID-19 deaths and a quarter of virus-related hospitalizations through September, according to the report. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander people account for less than 2% of Alaska’s population but just over 5% of deaths and 8% of hospitalizations.

White people make up about 65% of the population but account for just under 50% of deaths and 39% of hospitalizations, while Asian people make up about 7% of the population, 7% of virus-related hospitalizations, and 9% of deaths.

On its website, the CDC cites “long-standing systemic health and social inequities” as a major contributing factor to why people from racial and ethnic minority groups are overall at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.

Discrimination, lack of health care access and poverty are all “inequities in social determinants of health that put racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk,” according to the CDC.

Underlying health conditions, which disproportionately affect some races — and also act as increased risk factors for severe illness from the coronavirus — can partly explain the state’s race-based disparities, Alaska health officials have said.

According to federal data collected in a report published last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nationwide since the beginning of the pandemic, Black people have represented a larger share of COVID-19 deaths compared to their share of the population — 14% vs. 12%.

Hispanic people have represented a larger share of cases relative to their share of the total population (27% vs 17%), while Alaska Native people, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander people have accounted for similar shares of cases and deaths relative to their shares of the population, the report found.

White people have accounted for a lower share of cases compared to their share of the population but a similar share of deaths, while Asian people have made up a lower share of cases and deaths compared to their population, according to that report.

The latest Alaska data suggests that in the state, certain death disparities by race have been more stark.

The report also tracks differences by gender: It finds that men account for roughly 57% of Alaska’s COVID-19 deaths, even though they make up just 51% of the population.

Comparing vaccine breakthrough cases to cases among people who were not fully vaccinated, the report found that vaccine breakthrough cases represented roughly a third of all virus cases reported by the state in September, and just 18% of all virus-related hospitalizations that month.

In September, unvaccinated Alaskans were about 14 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus than vaccinated Alaskans, the report said.

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