Underreporting of race/ethnicity in COVID-19 research


Advocate Aurora Health Care


OBJECTIVES: Although racial/ethnic disparities in healthcare have long been recognized, recent discourse around structural racism will hopefully lead to improved transparency surrounding these issues. Despite the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial/ethnic minorities, the extent and reliability of race reporting in COVID research is unclear.

METHODS: COVID-19 research published in three top medical journals during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was reviewed and assessed for race reporting and proportional representation.

RESULTS: Of the 95 manuscripts that were identified, 56 reporting on 252,262 patients met eligibility. Thirty-five (62.5%) did not report race distribution and 15 (26.7%) did not report ethnicity. There was no difference based on journal (P = 0.87), study sponsor (P = 0.41), whether the study was retrospective or prospective (P = 0.33), or observational vs interventional (P = 0.11). Studies with ≥250 patients were more likely to report on race (OR 4.01, 95% CI: 1.12-14.37, P = 0.027), and North American (USA and Canada) studies were more likely than European studies (OR 7.88, 95% CI: 1.73-37.68, P = 0.006) to report on race. COVID-19 research mirrored USA COVID-19 racial incidence; however, both showed higher distribution of COVID-19 infection among Blacks and a smaller proportion of Whites compared to the USA population. This suggests that research is broadly representing infection rates and that social determinants of health are impacting racial distribution of infection.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite increasing awareness of racial disparities and inequity, COVID-19 research during the first wave of the pandemic lacked appropriate racial/ethnicity reporting. However, research mirrored COVID-19 incidence in the USA, with an increased burden of infection among Black individuals.

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