New York City will take a patient’s race into account when distributing potentially life-saving COVID treatments, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed on their website.
The city will “consider race and ethnicity when assessing individual risk,” reads the agency’s official guidance from Dec. 20, which adds that “longstanding systemic health and social inequities” can contribute to an increased risk of dying from COVID-19.
The guidance applies to both the distribution of monoclonal antibodies and oral antivirals like Paxlovid and Molnupiravir.
“Monoclonal antibody treatments have averted at least 1,100 hospitalizations and at least 500 deaths among people treated in New York City,” the city said in October.
The race-based approach in treatment has already begun to have real-world consequences. One Staten Island doctor said he filled two prescriptions for Paxlovid this week and was asked by the pharmacist to disclose the race of his patients before the treatment was authorized.
This policy was first flagged by New York journalist Karol Markowicz, whose Twitter summary described it as “white people need not apply.”
White people who are sick from COVID can still be eligible for antibody treatment, but only if they first demonstrate that they have “a medical condition that increase[s] their risk for severe illness.” But non-white people have the significant advantage of being automatically eligible without having to demonstrate that, since their non-white race is deemed to inherently constitute an increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.
“In my 30 years of being a physician I have never been asked that question when I have prescribed any treatment,” said the doctor, who requested anonymity. “The mere fact of having to ask this question is a slippery slope.”
Both patients, who are white, were ultimately granted their prescriptions.
A recent “Request for Proposals,” form on behalf of the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stressed the agency’s commitment to “racial equity.”
“The … DOHMH is committed to improving health outcomes for all New Yorkers by explicitly advancing racial equity and social justice. Racial equity does not mean simply treating everyone equally, but rather, allocating resources and services in such a way that explicitly addresses barriers imposed by structural racism (i.e. policies and institutional practices that perpetuate racial inequity) and White privilege,” it read.
It is unclear if the new “race” guidance has yet to exclude whites from getting treatment, but observers and doctors fear that a system is being created that could lead to racial exclusions in the future during a drug shortage or case surge
“We are collecting demographic data on COVID antivirals at the request of the city for anonymized data reporting purposes only, as is commonly done with COVID tests and vaccines,” Michael Krueger, a pharmacy rep said. For now, the city is participating exclusively with Alto Pharmacy to distribute the new drugs.
Medical experts said it is correct for COVID treatment to be allocated based who is at the highest risk, but stressed that race was not a biological risk factor.
“I have not seen [race] as one of the risk factors for severe disease and death,” Martin Kulldorff, a Harvard epidemiologist and professor, told The Post. “The reason that a lot of African Americans have died in New York — which is true — is because the rich people and more affluent were working from home while the working class were exposed.”