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LI's Black, Latino communities make COVID-19 vaccination gains 

"What we've been calling vaccine hesitancy, particularly among

"What we've been calling vaccine hesitancy, particularly among minorities, is more vaccine healthy skepticism," said Melody Goodman, of the NYU School of Global Public Health. Credit: NYU School of Global Public Health

Predominantly Black and Latino communities have seen some of the biggest increases in COVID-19 vaccination rates on Long Island, although they still tend to have fewer vaccinated residents than communities that are mostly white, a Newsday analysis found.

Over a period of roughly two weeks, ZIP codes where a majority of residents are Black or Latino saw an increase of 4 percentage points in the proportion of people who have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared with an increase of 2.9 percentage points where Black and Latino people are not the majority, the analysis found.

Seven of the 10 areas with the largest increases are predominantly Black and Latino, the analysis of state data provided by Nassau and Suffolk counties found. Numbers from June 1 were compared to Nassau data for May 17 and Suffolk data for May 18.

What to know

Seven of the 10 Long Island ZIP codes with the biggest increase in COVID-19 vaccination rates are predominantly Black and Latino.

The increase over about two weeks was 4 percentage points in majority Black and Latino areas and 2.9 points in places without a Black and Hispanic majority.

Experts and community leaders say more intensive outreach by trusted local nonprofits and residents, greater accessibility and the vaccinations of family members and friends are among the reasons.

The biggest increase was 7 percentage points, in the predominantly white communities of Montauk and Amagansett.

Uniondale’s ZIP code, 11553, which is more than 86% Black and Latino, had the second-biggest increase: 5.1 percentage points, from 39.1% to 44.2% of residents with at least one dose.

'Trust the science'

Pearl Jacobs, president of Uniondale’s Nostrand Gardens Civic Association, said she and other civic leaders "were very concerned that we were lagging behind in vaccinations," so "we all decided we would talk it up and encourage people to take a leap of faith and trust the science. … We had a lot of conversations, we did some outreach, we made some calls, and we asked people to spread the word."

Melody Goodman, associate dean for research and associate professor of biostatistics at the NYU School of Global Public Health in Manhattan, said those types of conversations typically are more effective than outreach by a government agency.

"For those of us in public health, we know the best message is from people they trust," including from already vaccinated family and friends who can assuage concerns about side effects and other issues, she said.

"What we’ve been calling vaccine hesitancy, particularly among minorities, is more vaccine healthy skepticism," Goodman said. "What we’ve seen from some of the data is they didn’t want to be the first. It wasn’t that they didn’t want it. So as more people get it, it makes sense that vaccine rates among minority communities are increasing."

Martine Hackett, an associate professor of health professions at Hofstra University in Hempstead and an expert on health inequities, said another reason for the increase in rates is that "the barriers to getting vaccines are much lower. You don’t have to make an appointment. You don’t have to go online. It really is more accessible."

Hackett noted that Black and Latino communities with the highest rates tend to be more affluent, such as largely middle class Baldwin and Valley Stream. Many of those residents have salaried jobs in fields like health care and are influenced by co-workers and friends, and they are more likely than low-wage hourly workers to have employers who let them take time off work for vaccinations, she said.

Numbers still lagging

Despite the gains, people living in predominantly Black and Latino ZIP codes are still significantly less likely to be vaccinated: 45.9% as of June 1, compared with 57.8% of residents of ZIP codes without a Black and Latino majority.

Numbers remain lower in part because of distrust of a medical system that often is discriminatory, Goodman said.

The vaccination data is based on self-reported postal ZIP codes, which in some cases differ from the Census Bureau’s "ZIP code tabulation areas," from which population estimates are taken to calculate rates.

Vaccination rates among Latinos have increased more rapidly than rates among Black residents, separate state data shows. As of Wednesday morning, 7.3% of all Long Islanders 15 and older who have received at least one dose were Black. Islandwide, 10.7% of the 15-and-older population is Black.

The gap has nearly disappeared among Hispanics: 16.6% of vaccinated Long Islanders are Latinos, who make up 16.9% of the population.

Maidaya Maldonado, operations director of Adelante of Suffolk County, which serves primarily Latino residents, said her organization and other community-based groups have worked intensively to get Latinos to vaccination sites.

"More people are getting vaccinated because people they trust are the ones asking them to get vaccinated," said Maldonado, who estimated that her organization alone has registered 800 to 900 people for vaccinations at sites run or staffed by the state, Suffolk County and Northwell Health.

In addition, she said, sites have been set up in familiar places like senior centers and recreation facilities.

The biggest gain in vaccination rates was in Montauk’s 11954 and Amagansett’s 11930. The communities — which were combined to increase the reliability of population estimates — have the second-highest vaccination rate on Long Island: 83.6%. Another ZIP code in East Hampton Town — East Hampton Village’s 11937 — had the fifth-highest increase.

East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc credited the high rates to the town’s decision early on to set up its own vaccination centers, rather than have residents travel to county or state sites.

Even with increased availability of the vaccine in places such as pharmacies, about 300 doses were recently administered with the help of a local pediatrician’s office at a town site shortly after children 12 to 15 became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Van Scoyoc said.

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