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March 2, 2021

Barragán & Clark Urge CDC to Include Asthma in COVID-19 Medical Comorbidity Guidelines, Ensure Equity in Vaccine Distribution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                      

March 2, 2021

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressmembers Katherine Clark (MA-05), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44) and 38 other Members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky urging the agency to add moderate-to-severe asthma in its list of underlying medical conditions that increase the risk for severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19). The Members point out that asthma disproportionately impacts communities of color and failure to prioritize this form of lung disease contributes to inequitable vaccine distribution.

 

“We have grown increasingly concerned by the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and believe the failure to list asthma, a lung disease that disproportionately impacts communities of color, is a contributing factor in that unequal distribution,” wrote the lawmakers. “The science is clear, individuals with preexisting lung conditions are more susceptible to severe COVID disease. The omission of asthma from the CDC’s list of underlying conditions means that asthma patients who live in states that closely adhere to CDC guidelines do not have priority access to vaccines.”

 

A nationwide study conducted by Harvard’s public health researchers found that fine particulate matter, which causes respiratory illnesses like asthma, increases the risk of dying from COVID-19. As with many medical conditions, the burden of asthma is disproportionately experienced in communities of color that already face greater COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death rates compared to their white counterparts. According to the American Lung Association, nearly 11% of all Black individuals were estimated to have asthma compared to 7.7% of white individuals in 2018. Multiple states like Delaware, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and New York have already acknowledged moderate-to-severe asthma as a significant risk and prioritized asthma patients for vaccination access.

 

A pdf of the letter with the list of signers is here.

 

Full text of the letter is below.

Dear Director Walensky:

We write to urge you to include moderate-to-severe asthma in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) list of underlying medical conditions that increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19. We have grown increasingly concerned by the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and believe the failure to list asthma, a lung disease that disproportionately impacts communities of color, is a contributing factor in that unequal distribution.

The science is clear, individuals with preexisting lung conditions are more susceptible to severe COVID disease. A nationwide study conducted by Harvard’s public health researchers found that fine particulate matter, which causes respiratory illnesses like asthma, increases the risk of dying from COVID-19.[1] Moreover, the CDC recognized this correlation when it listed current and former smokers of any age as being at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. As with smokers, asthmatics with moderate-to-severe symptoms have a harder time fending off respiratory infections, yet the more than 25 million Americans suffering from asthma are not currently considered to be at risk of severe COVID disease.[2] The omission of asthma from the CDC’s list of underlying conditions means that asthma patients who live in states that closely adhere to CDC guidelines do not have priority access to vaccines. 

As with many medical conditions, the burden of asthma is disproportionately experienced in communities of color that already face greater infection, hospitalization, and death rates compared to their white counterparts. According to the American Lung Association, nearly 11% of all Black individuals were estimated to have asthma compared to 7.7% of white individuals in 2018.[3] Respiratory conditions like moderate-to-severe asthma only worsen outcomes in communities of color as studies have shown that Black patients with asthma suffer from more severe COVID-19 symptoms. As a result, the prevalence of asthma in communities of color may likely be a contributing factor to people of color dying from COVID at a rate three times higher than those who are white.

This is why states like Delaware, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and New York have already acknowledged moderate-to-severe asthma as a significant risk and prioritized asthma patients for vaccination access. However, in the pursuit of equity, we believe that it is incumbent upon your agency to revisit the “at increased risk” priority list and consider including this critical medical condition. 

From the onset, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the failures of our health care system to protect vulnerable communities. We fear that failure to include moderate-to-severe asthma as a qualifying comorbidity exacerbates existing racial inequities in health care access and compounds the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has on communities of color. As such, we urge you to swiftly amend the CDC’s list of medical conditions at increased risk to be inclusive of moderate-to-severe asthma. 

Thank you for your consideration of our request. 

Sincerely,

 

 

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Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Carson, Compton, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, Walnut Park, Watts, Willowbrook and Wilmington