Global statistics reveal that hospitalized men are far more likely to die of COVID-19 than women. Are men more vulnerable because of lifestyle choices—elevated smoking and obesity rates, say—or for biological reasons yet to be discovered? The jury is still out.
Apart from being used as leverage for dark humour by misandrists, this disparity hasn’t attracted significant public interest, let alone deep concern. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. is not even yet tracking sex differences in infection or fatality rates. I’m pleased to note that the research we’ve seen so far has at least been conducted according to the scientific method.
Because, if the numbers were reversed—more women dying than men—the CDC would likely be all over it, with an emerging line of inquiry exploring the theory that a male-dominated medical system may be riddled with implicit bias against female patients.
As evidence for that hypothesis, one has only to look at the coronavirus statistical disparities between African-American and whites in certain urban areas in the U.S. and the responses to them we are seeing from politicians and elites in the science community.
Baldly stated, the figures are dismaying to be sure. In Illinois, where 15% of the state is black, African-Americans account for 43% of deaths; in Michigan, blacks (14%) account for 40% of deaths; in Louisiana blacks (33%) account for 70% of deaths. Assuming the worst, three former presidential candidates—Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker—called upon the CDC and the FDA to investigate doctors’ “implicit biases.”
Dig a little, though, and plausible objective answers surface. African-Americans are disproportionately domiciled—at, respectively 33%, 78% and 60%—in densely-populated Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans, cities that account for their states’ vast majority of cases (a global trend). It is known that co-morbidities drive up statistics. Diabetes, hypertension and obesity, all of which present higher risks to those infected, are far more prevalent amongst blacks than whites. Moreover, compliance with shelter-in-place rules has been less rigorously observed in black communities, to the point that Dr. Anthony Fauci was moved, in an Apr 8 press briefing, to plead “particularly with our brothers and sisters in the black community” to respect social distancing protocols.
Researchers are also looking at Vitamin D as a possible culprit in coronavirus-related mortality. Nations with the highest mortality rates—Italy, Spain and France—had the lowest average Vitamin D levels amongst virus-affected countries. Melanin inhibits Vitamin D production, so darker-skinned people are more likely than lighter-skinned people to be Vitamin D-deficient.
Viruses are race and religion-blind. India has been called by one leading Indian virologist “the diabetes capital of the world,” and Indians who die of COVID-19 are about 20 years younger than their Italian counterparts, according to Ramanan Laxminarayan, a Princeton health policy expert. Nobody in India is suggesting this disparity is a function of racism in the medical community.
Certainly it is true that American blacks are poorer than whites, more likely to work in the service industry, where risk of contracting viruses is elevated, and less likely to have high-quality health care.
Those are issues that need to be addressed. But such conditions are often the lot of people other than African-Americans as well. To make the leap from known factors that disproportionately affect blacks to implicit bias in those who treat blacks demonstrates a systemic obsession with racism that has come untethered from reason.
It’s bad enough that politicians are exploiting a health crisis to score points with identity-politics extremists. But when actual scientists in the field of immunology and epidemiology chime in with similar conspiracy theories, it’s downright alarming.
“Superstar scientist” Kizmekia Corbett, for example, a National Institute of Health immunologist working on a vaccine for the coronavirus, is under investigation for her controversial tweets implying, amongst other incendiary ideas, that the virus might be a “genocide” against black people, and that doctors would give preferential treatment to whites if ventilators were in short supply. Camara Phyllis Jones, an epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University, who has spent 13 years at the CDC investigating alleged racial bias within the medical system, told ProPublica, “The overrepresentation [in many diseases, including coronavirus] of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It’s because we’re not valued.”
Medical practitioners, the frontline heroes in this fateful battle, are all too often themselves falling victim to this novel scourge. It is shameful that authoritative insiders from the very scientific community charged with taming it should be adding to their burden with false allegations of racism. Institutional apologies should be forthcoming—and those betraying their professional standards in this divisive way should be, forthwith, outgoing.