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January 2022

OSU study finds COVID vaccine hesitancy falling faster among Black Americans

While the COVID vaccination rate for Black Americans still lags white Americans, a new study found that hesitancy among Black individuals is falling at a faster rate (Source: “COVID Vaccine Hesitancy Falling Faster Among Black Americans Than Whites,” HealthDay News via U.S. News, Jan. 24).

According to the study by Ohio State University researchers published in JAMA Network Open, In December 2020, about 38% of Black participants and 28% of white participants expressed hesitancy about the vaccines. By June 2021, those responses had shifted so they were almost even, with 26% of Black participants hesitant compared to 27% of white participants.

Still, by May 2021, the percentage of white individuals who had received at least one dose of vaccine was about 1.5 times the percentage of Black individuals who had received a dose.

If, as the study showed, it's not that Black Americans are more hesitant than white individuals, but they remain less vaccinated, "then we really need to ask ourselves, is it access barriers that are affecting Black Americans more?" said Tasleem Padamsee, lead study author.

Though this study was not focused on the reasons for the lower vaccination rates, it pointed out that various obstacles might keep Black people from getting vaccinated. Potential obstacles could include concern about missing work to get the vaccine or missing it afterward due to side effects, not having transportation to the vaccine site or worrying that there may be a cost for vaccines.

Commonwealth Fund releases racial equity framework for assessing health policy

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Fund released a brief laying out a racial equity framework for accessing health policy.

“Despite enduring racism and the need for greater racial equity, there is limited consensus among analysts, academics, and public officials on how to assess policy for its impact on racial equity,” according to the paper. “Without instructive conceptual frameworks, our ability to identify, examine, and eradicate racial inequity through health policy will be limited.”

The framework is a conceptual tool meant to provide researchers, policymakers, and others with guidance on how to assess the racial equity implications of policy. It can also benefit those who are collecting systematic data on health policies by providing a lens through which to methodically assess what those policies mean for racial equity and why.

Black, unmarried patients more likely to have negative descriptors in health records, study finds

The language clinicians use in their electronic health record (EHR) notes varies by patients' race, marital status and type of insurance, according to a new study (Source: “Patients who are Black, unmarried or on government insurance described more negatively in EHR, study shows,” Jan. 19).

The Health Affairs study found Black patients were 2.54 times more likely to have one or more negative descriptors in their EHR notes than white patients. It also found patients who are unmarried or enrolled in a government insurance program had higher likelihoods of negative descriptors than patients who were married or enrolled in private or employer-based insurance plans. 

The study's authors said their findings raise concerns about racial bias in healthcare and the possible transmission of stigma through the EHR. They said providers may need self-awareness and bias training to change their language.

Study links cardiovascular disease risk for African Americans with social determinants of health

A new study has found that social determinants such as age, sex, marital status, and education level were associated with risk of cardiovascular disease for American Africans (Source: “SDOH Drive Cardiovascular Mortality Disparities for African Americans,” Patient Engagement HIT, Jan. 6).

The study from Mayo Clinic Proceedings found a higher occurrence of cardiovascular disease and associated clinical and social determinant risk factors than past studies, suggesting these issues are worse than previously understood.

The study analyzed 644 African American individuals from Minnesota, using data gathered from May to December 2019 to examine the association between age- and sex-adjusted cardiovascular disease risk factors, sociodemographic characteristics and health beliefs. 

ODH Director: ‘COVID-19 is not going away’

A record 1 in every 46 Ohioans was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past two weeks, with the Ohio Department of Health's director saying the virus “will be a part of our health care landscape for the foreseeable future” (Source: “Record number of Ohioans contract COVID-19,” Youngstown Vindicator, Jan. 21).

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, head of ODH, said Thursday despite “signs of improvement in some of Ohio’s first and hardest-hit areas of this historic and record-shattering surge of COVID-19 cases,” people shouldn’t “breathe such a sigh of relief that they think this is entirely over. We’re still dealing with this surge. COVID-19 is not going away.”

It was the sixth consecutive week that Ohio hit a record high number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

Opioid prescriptions continue to drop in Ohio, report finds

Ohio doctors and pharmacists cut back the number of prescription opioids they dispensed last year, a move that continues a large-scale drop in the number of painkillers distributed across the state (Source: “Ohio doctors, pharmacists cut back on the dispensing of prescription opioids in 2021, continuing a yearslong trend,” Cleveland Plain Dealer,  Jan. 17).

Ten years after the peak of the prescription opioid crisis hit, medical providers have sharply reduced the number of pills that reach consumers. Healthcare providers across Ohio distributed 334 million opioid pills last year, nearly a 60% drop from the 793 million in 2012, according to figures released this week by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. The numbers are based on the board’s statewide reporting system that tracks prescriptions.

Despite the drop in opioid prescriptions, the number of Ohioans who died from an overdose rose 54% from 2015 to 2020, according to an HPIO fact sheet titled “Refocusing Ohio’s Approach to Overdose Deaths.” The primary reason appears to be the increased presence of synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl and carfentanil) in the drug supply. Since 2016, fentanyl and related drugs have been the most common drugs present in unintentional overdose deaths in Ohio.

Study: Many who attempted suicide can’t find mental health care

A new study has found that although suicide attempts in the United States have increased substantially over the last decade, the number of people who had recently attempted suicide and said they were not receiving mental health services has remained constant at about 40 percent (Source: “Survey of Americans Who Attempted Suicide Finds Many Aren’t Getting Care," New York Times, Jan. 19).

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry on Wednesday, traces a rise in the incidence of suicide attempts, defined as “self-reported attempts to kill one’s self in the last 12 months,” from 2008 to 2019. During that period, the incidence rose to 564 in every 100,000 adults from 481.­ Among the major findings was that there was no significant change in the use of mental health services by people who had tried suicide, despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and receding stigma around mental health care.

The Affordable Care Act, which took effect fully in 2014, required all health plans to cover mental health and substance abuse services, and also sharply reduced the number of uninsured people in the U.S. Still, many respondents to the survey in the new report said the cost of mental health care was prohibitive; others said they were uncertain where to go for treatment or had no transportation.

Dr. Paul Nestadt, an assistant professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins who has researched the epidemiology of suicide but was not involved in the study, said the new data points, once again, to the scarcity of psychiatric beds or mental health professionals who take insurance, factors that have prevented medical science from bringing down the country’s suicide rates.

“The bottom line is, our treatments really work,” he said. “But people have to be able to access care. When they can’t, they’re left with less choices.”

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio announces staff promotions

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has announced the promotion of four staff members.

Hailey Akah has been promoted to associate vice president; Carrie Almasi is now a senior health policy analyst and Stephen Listisen and Jacob Santiago were both promoted to health policy analyst.

“The committed, creative and talented staff of HPIO is integral to the effectiveness of the organization,” said HPIO President Amy Rohling McGee. “With a small, but outcome-oriented team of 10, we are able to pursue our mission to advance evidence-informed policies that improve health, achieve equity, and lead to sustainable healthcare spending in Ohio.”

Akah has been with HPIO since 2015. In that time, she has developed expertise in several policy areas, including mental health and addiction, criminal justice, employment and aging. She has taken lead roles in developing Ohio’s State Health Improvement Plan, Strategic Action Plan on Aging, Minority Health Strikeforce Blueprint and HPIO’s Addiction Evidence Project.

Almasi joined HPIO in 2020. Prior to joining HPIO, she was an Assistant Vice President at United Way of Central Ohio where she worked to create systemic solutions to poverty.  Listisen and Santiago joined HPIO as staff members in 2020, following internships with the organization.

ODH to divert COVID tests from libraries to schools

The Ohio Dept. of Health says it will divert incoming rapid COVID test kits to K-12 schools, colleges and universities (Source: “Ohio changes priorities for distribution of COVID tests from libraries to schools,” Statehouse News Bureau, Jan. 12).

The state's health department says it had previously ordered 1.2 million antigen tests to be distributed free of charge through libraries and health departments in the month of January but, so far, only 400,000 of those have been distributed. ODH says shipments of the remaining 800,000 proctored test kits have been put on hold by the manufacturer as demand for them has increased nationwide. ODH expects to receive shipments later this month but says when they arrive, they will be given to schools, not libraries and health departments.

ODH says once schools have what they need, the state will once again send test kits to libraries and health departments.

SCOTUS blocks Biden COVID vaccine rule for large employers

The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job (Source: “Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses,” Associated Press, Jan. 14).

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.