Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has come under fire for a newly announced statewide vaccination protocol moving minorities to the head of the line based solely on their race.
The Republican governor announced Thursday that Black, Indigenous and people of color, known as BIPOC, may now sign up to be vaccinated against COVID-19, two weeks before the state plans to make available vaccines to anyone over the age of 16.
“If you or anyone in your household identifies as Black, Indigenous, or a person of color (BIPOC), including anyone with Abenaki or other First Nations heritage, all household members who are 16 years or older can sign up to get a vaccine!” Mr. Scott tweeted.
Also eligible to be inoculated immediately are “English language learners and people in immigrant/refugee communities,” along with people over 50; those 16 and older with high-risk medical conditions; parents of children with high-risk conditions, and those working in health care, schools, and public safety.
The order was promptly blasted as discriminatory by conservative pundits such as Ian Miles Cheong, who tweeted, “No vaccines for whites, eh?”
“That Vermont is discriminating on the basis of race in distributing lifesaving vaccines should be a headline story. It’s appalling and a betrayal of the promise of America,” tweeted Independent Women’s Forum senior policy analyst Inez Stepman. “It’s also unconstitutional on its face.”
Concurring was Hans Bader, a civil-rights lawyer in Washington, D.C., who said Friday that the Supreme Court has ruled that “preferences for racial minorities are presumptively unconstitutional,” even if minority groups have faced discrimination.
“Vermont can’t give out the vaccine to just minorities to address these risk factors. It can address them in non-racial ways — such as giving priority to people performing essential jobs that require interaction with the public, or to people living in crowded areas,” said Mr. Bader in an op-ed for Liberty Unyielding. “But it can’t give priority to such people based on their race.”
He also said Vermont has shown no history of discrimination, calling it “the least racist state in America.” Not only did Vermont never segregate its schools, but it was the first to abolish slavery and allow Americans of all races to vote.
The Washington Times has reached out to Mr. Scott’s office for comment.
The Vermont Department of Health said that minorities have higher rates of COVID-19, making up 6% of the population but 18% of the cases.
“In Vermont, there is a disproportionate number of BIPOC Vermonters with COVID-19, and
this disparity has been consistent throughout the pandemic,” said the department on its website. “In addition, this population is at higher risk for more serious outcomes, such as hospitalization.”
The department attributed it to minorities being “disproportionately represented in essential frontline jobs that cannot be done at home,” and more likely to be living in “multigenerational housing or congregate living spaces.”
An October survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Black Americans were less likely to be immunized, citing distrust of the vaccine.
“Vermont has not pointed to any proof of discrimination by the state itself related to the vaccine or COVID,” Mr. Bader said. “It had to do that before granting minorities a preference for that preference to have any hope of being constitutional.”
The state plans to allow anyone over the age of 16 to sign up for the vaccine on April 19, with the goal of having Vermonters fully vaccinated by July 2021.