Black and Latino Long Islanders are getting vaccinated at significantly lower rates than other residents, but the gap is narrowing, according to state data examined by Newsday.
Health experts predict a continued reduction in disparities now that vaccine appointments are easier to get and walk-ins are being allowed at all state-run and some Suffolk County sites.
Black people are 10.7% of Long Island’s population aged 15 and older. But of all Long Islanders with at least one vaccine dose, only 6.6% are Black. Latinos make up 16.9% of the Island’s residents, but only 14.1% of Long Islanders with at least one dose are Latino. The percentage of vaccinated Long Island residents who are white or Asian is higher than the percentage of the Island’s total population that is white or Asian.
There also is a gap statewide, state data shows, and nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What to know
- Black and Latino Long Islanders are less likely to be vaccinated than white and Asian residents.
- Experts say this is partly because the early months of vaccination sign-ups put many people of color at a disadvantage.
- The gap is getting smaller and is expected to narrow further now that vaccinations are easier to obtain.
At the root of the gap are the first months of vaccinations, when competition for appointments was fierce, and those with fast, stable internet access, computer savviness, abundant free time and an ability and willingness to drive long distances for vaccinations had the upper hand, said Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University and an expert on health disparities. That put people of color at a disadvantage, especially those with low incomes, he said.
"If you’re an essential worker, and you’re working long hours, or you’ve got a lot of kids, or you’re taking care of people, you can’t sit there for hours a day clicking and clicking" to find appointments, he said.
Many vaccinations, especially during early months, have been at sites only open during daytime hours, Clouston said. "They kind of assume you’re able to take off work," which may be true for most salaried workers, but often is not the case for hourly employees, who are disproportionately Black and Latino, he said.
In addition, Clouston said, sign-up websites often were confusing and difficult to understand, and translation assistance that was available was sometimes hard to find.
Dr. Brian Harper, a former Suffolk County health commissioner, said the racial and ethnic gap also reflects long-standing health care disparities.
"In general, the African American and Latino communities may not be accessing care at the higher rate you may see in the general community," said Harper, chief medical officer and vice president for equity and inclusion at the Old Westbury-based New York Institute of Technology.
Part of the reason for the gap is demographic, said Martine Hackett, an associate professor of health professions at Hofstra University and an expert on health inequities. People 65 and older were among those prioritized early on, and a higher proportion of whites, compared with Latinos and Blacks, are seniors.
"There were just more of them eligible in those early time periods," she said.
State, Nassau and Suffolk officials have touted how they have placed many vaccination sites in communities with large Black and Latino populations.
That helped, Hackett said. But for some sites, sign-ups were via computer and open to anyone, and most of those getting vaccinated were from outside the targeted communities, she said.
At some locations, churches and community-based organizations were put in charge of registering people, so those getting vaccinated were from surrounding communities, Hackett said. But the number of people vaccinated at those sites has been a fraction of those inoculated at mass vaccination sites, she said.
Over the past few weeks, eligibility was expanded to anyone 16 and older and appointments became much easier to obtain.
In the coming weeks, "I wouldn’t be surprised if there is still a gap," Hackett said. "But I think as time goes on, there will be less and less of that."
Harper said expanded outreach to Black and Latino communities, including through clergy and other community leaders — "to make sure the minority communities are being made aware and have access to the vaccine" — has helped reduce the gap.
He said it’s difficult to say whether there is more reluctance to get vaccinated among Black and Latino Long Islanders than among whites and Asians, and if vaccine hesitancy plays a part in the disparities.
National polls released over the past several weeks have found that enthusiasm for a vaccine has increased the most among Blacks, who previously had been among the least likely to plan to get vaccinated. White Republicans are now the most reluctant, polls say.
The narrowing of the New York vaccination gap has been more pronounced among Latinos. Since March 30, the percentage of vaccinated Suffolk County residents who are Black increased from 4.6% to 5.3%, and for those who are Latino it rose from 9.8% to 15.1%, according to state data.
In Nassau County, the percentage of vaccinated residents who are Black went from 7.3% to 8%, and the percentage for Latinos increased from 9.8% to 13%.
Maidaya Maldonado, operations director of Adelante of Suffolk County, which serves primarily Latino residents, said the state, county and Northwell Health have been working with her organization and other nonprofits to help register Latinos for appointments.
"For the Latino community, it’s very important to feel like you’re trusting the person you’re talking with," she said. "If they don’t feel comfortable with the person they’re talking with, that person won’t be effective with the community."
That’s especially true for those living in the country without legal authorization, who also are much more likely to feel comfortable getting vaccinated in a well-known community-based site than in a government building or government-sponsored location, she said.
"Somebody without documents is not going to go to the big state sites," she said.