February 1, 2022

At an Arizona rally, former President Donald J. Trump stirred up the crowd with inaccurate claims about how white people are being put at a disadvantage when seeking health care during the pandemic.

“The left is now rationing life-saving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating, just denigrating white people to determine who lives and who dies. If you’re white, you don’t get the vaccine, or if you’re white you don’t get therapeutics,” he said. “In fact, in New York State, if you’re white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical help. Think of it. If you’re white you go right to the back of the line.”

New York State’s guidance for the distribution of COVID-19 treatments has been a hot topic in conservative media and also the subject of lawsuits by a Cornell University law professor and a pro-Trump advocacy group.

So, what is Trump talking about? Do white people have to “go to the back of the line to get medical help” in New York state?

State memo

The context for Trump’s remarks is a state Department of Health memo from Dec. 27, sent to health care providers and facilities about treatments meant to prevent worsening conditions in people already sick with the virus.

The memo addressed the recent authorization of COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments, such as Paxlovid, as well as a severe shortage of those treatments and monoclonal antibodies. It warned that supplies of oral antivirals “will be extremely limited initially,” and that only one monoclonal antibody product is effective against the omicron variant, the dominant variant in New York.

The state told health care providers to prioritize the therapies for people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised regardless of their vaccination status, or those 65 and older and not fully vaccinated with at least one risk factor for severe illness.

Patients have to meet other criteria for oral antiviral treatment, including being at least 12 years old, testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, having mild to moderate symptoms, not being hospitalized for those symptoms, and being able to start the treatment within five days of starting symptoms. Other criteria include having a medical condition or other factors that increase their risk for severe illness. “Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19.”

We asked the state Department of Health about Trump’s statement that white people have to go to the back of the line to get treatment.

“No one in New York who is otherwise qualified based on their individual risk factors will be turned away from life-saving treatment because of their race or any demographic identifier,” said spokesperson Erin Silk.

The Department of Health is advising health care providers to consider a number of health-based risk factors when providing this treatment, Silk said. “These are neither qualifications nor requirements for treatments,” she said. These risk factors include medical conditions, age, and vaccination status. The state included non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said. The CDC has recognized that COVID-19 mortality rates are higher among certain demographic groups, including senior citizens, immunocompromised individuals and non-white/Hispanic communities.

What the experts say

CDC data show that compared to white people, the risk of death from COVID-19 is nearly twice as high for Black people and twice as high for Hispanic and Latino populations. Adjusted for age, those who are Hispanic, Black, or American Indian and Alaska Native are at least twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts, according to the health care research organization KFF.

White people who are immunocompromised still receive treatment under the guidance, said S. Matthew Liao, director of the Center for Bioethics in the School of Global Public Health at New York University. The policy acknowledges that Black and Hispanic people are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people, he said.

To get the treatment, you already have to be sick and have other risk factors. Race and ethnicity is one risk factor under this guidance, Liao said.

David Larsen, a public health professor at Syracuse University, said New York considers being Black and Hispanic a preexisting condition. But that does not mean the state is withholding treatment from white New Yorkers.

Erika Martin, an associate professor and applied health policy researcher at the University at Albany, said health care providers already account for risk factors for severe COVID-19, such as chemotherapy treatment. This guidance reminds them that race and ethnicity can put someone at risk of severe infection.

When health authorities talk about scarce resources, such as these COVID treatments, they want to distribute them in a way that will provide the most benefit, Martin said. In this instance, the way to do that is to distribute them to people at the highest risk for severe disease.

CDC report released on Jan. 21 found that the distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments was not equitable along racial and ethnic lines, according to data from 41 health care systems.

We reached out to Trump’s office for any additional supporting information but did not hear back.

Other fact-checkers have found no evidence for Trump’s statement and that he wrongly interpreted New York’s policy.

Our ruling

Trump said white people in New York state have to go to the back of the line for medical care. He makes a nonsensical claim that “if you’re white, you don’t get the vaccine.” There’s plenty of vaccine. There’s no need to withhold it from anybody.

There is no evidence that white New Yorkers who are sick with COVID-19 and have other risk factors are being denied treatment because patients of other races are receiving it. The Department of Health memo instructs health care providers to consider several factors when distributing COVID-19 treatments that are in short supply. Race and ethnicity are factors to consider because the risk of death for Black and Hispanic COVID-19 patients is twice as much as for their white peers.

Trump did not acknowledge the ways that white New Yorkers qualify for these treatments, nor did he say that race and ethnicity is only one risk factor on a list of many others that health care providers should consider.

He distorted a state health guidance to make a ridiculous claim.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Jill Terreri Ramos is a staff writer for PolitiFact New York and the Buffalo News.
Jill Terreri Ramos

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