Using the Minority Health Social Vulnerability Index to Drive Equitable Public Health Efforts

Posted on August 3, 2021 by Rebecca Mak, Policy Intern, HHS Office of Minority Health

During times of public health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately experience adverse outcomes like high hospitalization and mortality rates as a result of a variety of factors, including social determinants of health (SDOH),1,2 Examples of SDOH include healthcare access and quality, education, racism and discrimination, economic stability, housing, and environmental conditions. Identifying and understanding the most vulnerable communities are crucial steps for planning effective, tailored response and recovery efforts that take these factors into account.

The Minority Health Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), a new data tool offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is invaluable for identifying vulnerable communities in the U.S. to inform equity-focused, data-driven public health interventions and initiatives. The Minority Health SVI:

  • Is an extension of the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Social Vulnerability Index (CDC/ATSDR SVI), which uses demographic variables to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, or after disasters.
  • Expands upon the CDC/ATSDR SVI by adding risk factors associated with COVID-19 outcomes as well as disaggregating data on specific race/ethnicity and language categories.
  • Accounts for important factors, such as SDOH, that put racial and ethnic minority communities at greater risk for disproportionate impact and adverse outcomes from disasters like public health crises.

Factors included in the Minority Health SVI are organized by six themes—four from the CDC/ATSDR SVI and two that are specific to the Minority Health SVI. The CDC/ATSDR SVI themes are:

  1. socioeconomic status,
  2. household composition and disability,
  3. minority status and language, and
  4. housing type and transportation.

The two additional Minority Health SVI themes are:

  1. medical vulnerability, and
  2. healthcare infrastructure and access.

These two new themes include factors that influence COVID-19 outcomes at the county level, such as chronic diseases and access to healthcare facilities.

The healthcare infrastructure and access theme accounts for the presence of hospitals, urgent care clinics, pharmacies, and primary care physicians and health insurance coverage rates in the county, all of which affect how easily a resident can access healthcare. The new medical vulnerability theme includes cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease mortality rates per 100,000 people, diagnosed diabetes rate and obesity rate per 100,000 people, and access to the internet, which influences the ability of medically high-risk individuals to access health information, telehealth services, and vaccination sites.

Leveraging this comprehensive data, OMH is using the Minority Health SVI to support equitable COVID-19 response efforts. In June 2021, OMH launched the Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19 initiative. Through this initiative, local governments are partnering with community-based organizations to implement culturally appropriate interventions to improve health literacy by increasing the availability, acceptability, and use of COVID-19 public health information and services by racial and ethnic minority populations. Each of the 73 awardees across the country will develop a disparity impact statement to provide a framework for ongoing monitoring and determining the impact of the health literacy interventions on adherence to COVID-19 public health interventions. Awardees will use local and Minority Health SVI data to identify racial and ethnic minority populations at the highest risk for health disparities to help ensure their efforts address the identified disparities.

The Minority Health SVI allows users to more deeply understand the social vulnerability of specific racial and ethnic minority communities and better allocate public health resources. While identification of vulnerable populations is only one crucial step in the process of eliminating health disparities, it serves as the foundation for effective health equity interventions. OMH invites public health officials, policymakers, emergency response planners, and other stakeholders to explore the Minority Health SVI as a tool to support their data-informed equity efforts.


1Introduction to COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. Accessed on July 29, 2021.
2At A Glance: CDC/ATSDR Social Vulnerability Index. Accessed on July 29, 2021.