Native Alaskans have died of COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of white Alaskans, CDC report finds

A new report from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the most comprehensive overview yet of the disproportionate toll COVID-19 is taking on Native Americans and Alaska Native Americans living in Alaska.

Overall, Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up roughly one-fifth of the state’s population, but nearly one-third of all deaths, according to the report.

Between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and last December, Alaska Natives were hospitalized with the virus and died from it at rates three times higher than those of white residents, according to the report released Thursday.

The report is based on data shared with the CDC by the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services between March 2020 and December 2021.

Many Alaska Natives face multiple barriers to equity and access to health, including historical trauma and structural racism and remote or rural living that makes access to care more difficult and more expensive.

Findings from the latest report showed the death rate from the virus was about three times higher for Alaska Natives and Native Americans living in the state (297 deaths per 100,000) compared to white Alaskans (104 per 100,000) when adjusted for age.

The adjusted hospitalization rate was also high: 742 hospitalizations per 100,000 Alaska Natives compared to 273 hospitalizations per 100,000 white Alaskans, representing an almost three-fold risk for Alaska Natives.

The findings echo previous studies from Alaska — including those conducted by the state’s health department and tribal health organizations — that found clear, race-based disparities affecting who contracts COVID- 19, who is hospitalized for it and dies.

Nationally, COVID-19 has affected Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other people of color the most, the data showed.

On his websitethe CDC cites “longstanding systemic inequalities in health and society” as a major factor in why people from racial and ethnic minority groups are at increased overall risk of becoming ill and dying from COVID-19.

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

But despite these inequities, predominantly Native communities in Alaska have long had some of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates. in Alaska and the United States, to the credit of tribal health organizations and caregivers deeply rooted in the communities they serve.

The recent CDC report recommends that public health professionals “continue to work with tribal health organizations in Alaska to provide culturally competent and regionally required health interventions,” and that existing health care initiatives should “respect the knowledge and wisdom of these communities as experts on their own needs. »

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