Amid vaccine push in reluctant communities, politics plays big role

Black, Hispanic parents say in survey they are willing to get vaccinated, but Republicans were less likely to say so
Credit: (AP Photo/Haven Daley)
Sign at COVID-19 vaccination site

Hesitancy about the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be declining within Black and Hispanic communities in New Jersey, according to the results of a new online poll that also said politics — not race — was the strongest indicator of immunization acceptance.

In a mid-May survey of 1,215 registered New Jersey voters for Project Ready, a voting advocacy organization in Newark, more than nine in 10 Democrats said they had been or planned to be immunized against the coronavirus. But barely half of Republicans and less than two-thirds of Independents said they had or would be vaccinated.

The survey was conducted by national polling company Change Research — which oversaw a similar poll in February — and it showed that over three months willingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine rose from 62% to 69% among Black residents and from 77% to 83% among Hispanic New Jerseyans. Among white people, immunization interest grew just slightly, from 71% to 73% between February and May.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of Newark’s University Hospital, said the data “demonstrates the significant progress we’ve made as a state in educating people about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in communities of color.”

Elnahal, New Jersey’s former health commissioner, has worked with state, county and city officials to share information and promote access to the shots in Newark, where minorities are the majority.

The survey “also shows how much work we have to do to continue to get people vaccinated, so that every community is protected from the virus,” he said, promising the hospital would “redouble our efforts at this critical time.”

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More than 4.2 million residents have been inoculated against the coronavirus in New Jersey, according to state figures, and — while the pace of vaccination has slowed significantly — Gov. Phil Murphy has said he remains confident his goal of immunizing 4.7 million people by July can be reached.

But vaccine hesitancy has long been a major concern for public health leaders, especially among Black and Hispanic communities, which have suffered disproportionately under the pandemic.

Acceptance rate on the upswing

According to the poll results, vaccination rates appear to be growing across demographic divides. In February, 6% of Black voters said they had been fully immunized, along with 14% of Hispanics and 18% of whites, Change Research found at the time. Polling in mid-May showed much higher rates, with 35% of Black voters now vaccinated, 56% of Hispanics and 68% whites.

The growth seems likely to continue to build in minority communities, the polling also indicates. In the May survey another 34% of Blacks said they had an appointment for a first shot or planned to make one, compared to just 26% of Hispanics and just 4% of white voters.

Voters who “definitely will not” get immunized include 13% of Black respondents, 10% of Hispanics and 19% of whites, the poll said.

In addition, with one of the vaccines now approved for those ages 12 and up, the polling said Black and Hispanic parents are more eager to get their children immunized than white families.

Among high school and middle school families, 54% of Black parents said they will inoculate their kids, compared to 59% of Hispanics and 39% of whites. For younger children, 55% of Black parents would approve of shots, 47% of Hispanics and 47% for whites, the survey revealed.

“Even as they remain far less likely to already be vaccinated, communities of color are becoming increasingly comfortable with receiving the COVID-19 vaccines, and that’s a credit to the leaders across New Jersey whose outreach is showing early results,” said Shennell McCloud, Project Ready’s executive director.

McCloud (an NJ Spotlight News columnist) said concern about vaccine side effects and distrust of government were the two most common factors cited by those not yet immunized. That means “government and public health officials must continue to work directly with people to build trust and deliver vaccines to their neighborhoods from providers they trust,” she said.

State officials have sought to do this with pop-up vaccination clinics in urban areas organized through partnerships with local faith leaders and trusted community-based groups. They also helped host immunization sites at various Jersey Shore locations last weekend and have created several incentive programs — offering free wine, beer and a chance for dinner with the governor and first lady — to encourage people to roll up their sleeves.

Overall, 73% of the New Jersey voters surveyed by Change Research in mid-May said they are willing to be vaccinated, up from 71% in February. Support in Newark, the state’s largest city, was even greater, with 84% of those surveyed saying they have or will get the shots.

Some 67% of New Jersey residents are white, 19% are Hispanic and 14% Black, according to U.S. census data.

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