Luke Marinac
July 19, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Blacks and Native Americans are more likely to have COVID-19 complications than whites with similar medical histories, according to a study co-authored by Karen Winkfield, M.D., Ph.D., Executive Director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance (MVA), which appeared in Scientific Reports.

“Racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes exist despite comparable Elixhauser comorbidity indices between Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Whites” is authored by experts from the University of Utah, Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and the Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center, and refutes the prevailing notion that minorities are at a greater risk of serious COVID-19 complications because of existing illnesses or diseases.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and heart conditions are more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19. Because there exists a higher instance of these conditions among Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, researchers have, in the past, suggested that these comorbidities account for the higher rate of complications from COVID-19 among these groups.

However, there have been few studies that examined whether populations that have the same types of preexisting conditions as whites have the same risk of severe COVID-19 complications, such as longer hospital stays, treatment with a ventilator, or an increased risk of death.

“Our findings contest arguments that Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than their White counterparts because they have more comorbidities,” said Fares Qeadan, Ph.D., lead author of the study. “In fact, when we compared Blacks, Native Americans, and Whites who had the same number of prior conditions, Blacks and Native Americans were still at higher risk of dying or being put on a ventilator.”

The results of this study call into question patient experience, provider behavior, hospital practices and how these may contribute to disparities, providing a potential roadmap for future research.

"Our study did not explicitly examine the influence of social determinants of health such as structural racism, which could have contributed to the inequities we found," said Charles R. Rogers, Ph.D., senior author of the study. "Decades before the pandemic, the value based on an individual simply because of the color of their skin has likely contributed to poor health outcomes and health care access at alarmingly high rates for communities of color and warrants further investigation."