Battiste Good’s (Wapostangi) Winter Count (National Anthropological Archives/Smithsonian Institution)

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light complex forms of racial injustice that are deeply entrenched in the American public health system. We witness the effects of systemic injustice in the significantly higher rates of disease and mortality in black and brown populations. With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we also possess an opportunity to address systemic health inequity going forward.

In their op-ed for Nautilus, SFI External Professor Melanie Moses (University of New Mexico) and her colleague Kathy L. Powers (University of New Mexico), both members of the Interdisciplinary Working Group for Algorithmic Justice, argue that complex systems science has been effective at modeling and proposing responses to the pandemic for the general population. Yet the strategies that scientists typically take to work with large-scale data often fail to address the grossly disproportionate effects of the pandemic on populations that face the highest risk. Moses and Powers argue that if scientists are to help public health policymakers meet their stated goal of protecting the most vulnerable, they must refine their methods to focus on the complex systems that govern communities that are most at risk.

For Moses and Powers, the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines presents an opportunity to undertake this kind of analysis — and in so doing, address longstanding inequities. If we take a closer look at how vulnerable populations are likely to access and respond to vaccines, we can begin strategically to restructure systemic injustice in ways that will help high-risk communities become more resilient in the future.

Read the op-ed in Nautilus (November 25, 2020)