Young men — particularly Hispanic — are a key target of New Jersey’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, along with Black residents and teenagers. Immunization rates are lowest among these segments of the population, according to state officials, even though some of these groups are at high risk for infection.
Gov. Phil Murphy and state health commissioner Judy Persichilli highlighted these demographics Wednesday as part of an update on New Jersey’s progress toward immunizing at least 4.7 million people against COVID-19 by July. Some 7.8 million doses have been administered through the state’s program and more than 3.7 million individuals are now fully vaccinated, state figures show.
“We continually look at the equity statistics,” Persichilli said. Black and Hispanic residents remain underrepresented when it comes to COVID-19 immunizations, she said, explaining that it is particularly crucial for the state to reach that “broad demographic” in its ongoing vaccination campaign, recently dubbed Operation Jersey Summer.
Overall vaccination rates by ethnic group were not immediately available Thursday, but data posted to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates white residents are far more likely to be immunized than their Black and Hispanic neighbors. Of the 7.8 million shots administered so far, 54% went to white residents, 12% to Hispanics, 10% to Asians and less than 7% to Black residents, the figures show. Nearly 20% went to individuals who did not provide their race or ethnicity or who listed it as “other.”
White people comprise roughly two-thirds of the state’s 9 million-plus population, while Hispanic residents make up close to 20%, Black residents account for 14% and Asian residents represent 10%, according to U.S. Census reports.
“If we go deeper, it’s young Hispanic men we need to pay attention to. They’re three times more likely to die from COVID than their white counterparts,” Persichilli said. “Black males and females are two times as likely. Our goal in the Department of Health is to prevent morbidity and mortality, and we will never forget that mission, so they’re the demographics we need to go after.”
While demand for COVID-19 vaccines far outpaced New Jersey’s supply for several months, interest has waned in recent weeks, following a peak of 120,000 daily shots in early April, state data shows. More recently, fewer than 40,000 doses have been administered some days.
Uptake has been greatest among older New Jerseyans, including individuals who live in nursing homes or other long-term care centers that hosted coordinated immunization programs. Now some 86% of those over age 65 have been fully vaccinated, as have 70% of those between 50 and 64 years old, according to figures from the state Department of Health.
When it comes to those ages 30 to 49, the immunization rate is just 55%, according to the DOH, and only 40% of those between 16 and 29 years are fully vaccinated. The most common vaccines available involve two doses spaced nearly a month apart.
Encouraging parents of 12- to 15-year-olds
On Wednesday federal authorities also provided an emergency authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to younger children, between 12 and 15 years old. Persichilli used the administration’s pandemic media briefing that day to encourage parents to get kids in this age group vaccinated so they can safely return to spending time with friends, traveling and doing other activities.
“New Jersey is moving in the right direction with case numbers declining, and having this age group vaccinated will help us fight this virus even further,” Persichilli said.
The state is now reporting fewer than 1,000 new positive COVID-19 infections daily, down from a peak of more than 6,000 a day in early January, according to DOH data. Overall, more than 1 million New Jerseyans have been infected, including some 26,000 who have died since the virus was first discovered here in March 2020.
Just over 12% of the state’s infections involved those under 18, the data shows, and seven children died of the disease, all under age 5. In addition, 116 of these young COVID-19 patients were diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, a rare condition that can cause inflammation in the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin and other organs; Persichilli said all these children were hospitalized, but none died.
“While many do not think this virus can be serious for children, the data shows that it can be,” Persichilli said. “We encourage parents to take their children to get vaccinated to protect their health.”
Making vaccinations more accessible
To help reach under-vaccinated communities, state officials have been working to create more easily accessible vaccination sites, targeting towns that have high percentages of minority residents and partnering with houses of worship and other local organizations to host pop-up clinics. On Wednesday, Murphy praised Newark Mayor Ras Baraka for establishing walk-in vaccination options in each of the city’s five wards.
“We know our community-based efforts are among our most successful in reaching those who may not otherwise get vaccinated,” Murphy said.
Both Murphy and Persichilli downplayed the suggestion that vaccine hesitancy was contributing to the lower turnout in some communities, indicating ease of access was the primary factor. The state has sought to ensure that every resident is within five miles of a vaccination site, something Murphy said Wednesday has been 99% achieved.
“I think it’s more making sure that it’s convenient, making sure they’re going to a familiar place where it’s safe,” Persichilli said.
One thing that is clear, Persichilli noted, is that women are more likely than men to get vaccinated. While women make up 51% of the state’s residents, they comprise 54% of those immunized to date, according to state data. Multiple studies have shown women make a majority of health care decisions in the family.
“I’m going to say to the women, use your power. Convince your male friends to get vaccinated,” Persichilli said. “I want to say to the men, nobody is stronger than this virus. No one,” she said. “So, get moving. Roll up your sleeve.”