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Asian vaccination rate for 15 and older highest among Long Island's ethnic groups

Dr. Ijaz Ahmad, an Old Westbury resident, said

Dr. Ijaz Ahmad, an Old Westbury resident, said that in his cardiology practice and two urgent cares in Brooklyn: "Asian Americans don't have the kind of mistrust in the system that African Americans and Hispanics have." Credit: Danielle Silverman

Asians on Long Island are more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than any other racial or ethnic group, state data shows, with community leaders citing high rates of education and income and cultural differences as the key reasons.

Asians represent 7.3% of Long Island’s 15 and older population, but 10.3% of those with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data. Nearly 179,000 Asians in that age group are at least partially vaccinated, the state says, as are nearly 158,000 African Americans, more than 361,000 Latinos, and 1.37 million whites, state data shows.

There is some overlap among categories, because about 12% of whites and more than 8% of African Americans also identify as Hispanic or Latino, who can be of any race, state Department of Health spokeswoman Erin Silk said.

What to know

Asians on Long Island and in New York State are more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than members of any other racial or ethnic group, state data shows. 

Asians compose 10.3% of all Long Islanders 15 and up who have received at least one vaccine dose. They represent 7.3% of the Island's total population 15 and older.

Asians are more likely to be college graduates than other Long Islanders, and they have the highest median income, factors that help explain their high vaccination rate, community leaders said. Cultural differences also play a part, they said.

Gordon Zhang, president of the Long Island Chinese Association, said many Asians in Nassau and Suffolk counties work in the health care field, and many of those who don’t can turn to family members and friends in health care to seek advice and information on vaccines.

"Asian American culture respects doctors," he said.

Zhang said his wife, a physician assistant, talked to some who were unsure about whether to take the vaccine, and she sold them on the safety and importance of the vaccine.

Many Long Island Asians not in health care are in other science-related fields and, because of that, are more likely to trust health authorities’ science-based recommendations, said Ramon Villongco, chairman of the Suffolk County Asian American Advisory Board.

"The Asian community is quite highly educated," said Dr. Bhavani Srinivasan, a pediatrician from Plainview. "Since the education is there, they realize the benefits of having immunizations."

Nationwide, 83% of college graduates are vaccinated, compared with 67% of adults without a college degree, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released on Oct. 28 found.

A much higher share of Asians in Nassau and Suffolk counties have college degrees than members of any other racial or ethnic group, and the median household income for Asians is also the highest, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Higher incomes also are linked to higher vaccination rates, the Kaiser survey and others have found.

In general, education makes someone more likely "to think through what may be rhetoric, what may be political, what may be science," said Barun Mathema, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Even so, he was quick to add, "There are thousands, millions of caveats to that," of well-educated people who may, for political or other reasons, be resistant to vaccination, he said.

Mathema was alluding to how Democrats are much more likely to be vaccinated than Republicans. Kaiser’s survey found that 90% of Democrats are vaccinated, compared with 61% of Republicans.

That partisan gap is another reason for the high Asian American vaccination rate, Mathema said. Nationwide and in New York, Asians tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. In the 2020 presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden received 72% of the Asian vote, compared with 28% for then-Republican President Donald Trump, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Precise percentage unclear

The precise percentage of Long Island Asians who are vaccinated is unclear. State data shows 178,924 Asian people 15 and older having received at least one dose of vaccine — but that number exceeds the entire Islandwide Asian population in that age group, which is 171,648, according to the state.

Silk said the health department's vaccination numbers are accurate. The vaccination rate is derived through using U.S. Census Bureau population projections for 2018, based on the 2010 census, she said. Experts say changes in population could help explain the discrepancy.

The most recent Census Bureau estimates broken down by age, from 2019, show an increase in the Island's Asian population. Using the broadest definition of "Asian," which includes Asians who identify with one or more race in addition to Asian, the total number of Asians 15 and older on the Island is 183,539, more than the number in that age group who are vaccinated. But public health experts say the way people identify themselves on a census form may be different from how they do so on a vaccination form.

In addition to state data, some doctors’ on-the-ground conversations with patients reveal less skepticism of the vaccine among Asians.

Dr. Ijaz Ahmad, an Old Westbury resident and president of the New York chapter of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America, said that in his cardiology practice and two urgent cares in Brooklyn, "Asian Americans don’t have the kind of mistrust in the system that African Americans and Hispanics have."

Experts have said that some Blacks, in particular, have a distrust in the government and health care system because of current and past bias and abuse.

In addition, Ahmad said, many Asians recall the spread of SARS and MERS, which also were caused by coronaviruses and led to more than 1,600 deaths, mostly in Asia.

"This isn’t the first time [something like] this happened in China and other Asian countries," Ahmad said. "Asians believe in this, and they think it’s a real virus and the only way to stop the spread is to get vaccinated."

Mathema said Asian cultures tend to be "very communal." That could lead to Asians being more likely to view "vaccination being good for the individual, your family and your community …," he said. "Family and community are very big in a lot of immigrant cultures."

About half of Asians on Long Island were born abroad, census estimates show.

Villongco said that in some Asian countries, there is more of a tendency to "follow the rules and regulations" than in the United States, and many Asian immigrants bring that ethos to the U.S.

"If the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] says to do it, we’ll go ahead and do it," he said.

Farrah Mozawalla, executive director of the Nassau County Office of Asian American Affairs, recalled that at the beginning of the pandemic, East Asians began wearing masks and avoiding crowds before other Long Islanders did.

"They were so hypervigilant about it that, it was the next step for them to get the vaccination," she said.

Hesitancy among some South Asians

There was initial vaccine hesitancy among some South Asians, "So we right away started doing webinars and infographics, whatever we could to make sure the community knew about any myths that were out there and addressing any questions they might have," Mozawalla said.

The office sent messages and videos promoting vaccinations to thousands of people via WhatsApp and WeChat, messaging apps popular among many Asian Americans, Mozawalla said. Office employees also helped Asians — including those with limited English — obtain vaccine appointments and fill out forms, and they tried to coordinate appointments so many were on a single day at a single site, she said. Someone from the office would then go to that site to help those who needed assistance, she said.

The office also reached out to gas station and restaurant owners and others with multiple Asian employees, Mozawalla said.

"There’s a ‘model immigrant minority’ myth that Asians are all well-off, but there’s a whole group of Asians that no one looks at, which are the salon workers, the restaurant workers, the gas station workers, the taxicab drivers, the seniors," she said. "They’re just kind of forgotten. Those are the groups that our office really targets. Because they need us the most."

Asians living in the country without legal authorization were reassured that the government would not use vaccinations to try to determine their immigration status, she said.

Zhang said his organization distributed vaccine information to thousands on its lists and via social media, as did the roughly 20 local Chinese organizations on Long Island. His group also helped people make vaccine reservations and helped with transportation to vaccination sites.

Zhang said for some Asians, the vaccine is not just a way out of a health crisis. Many believe that ending the pandemic would reduce the anti-Asian hate and hate crimes that surged as COVID-19 spread, he said.

"The vaccine is one way to stop this," he said.

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