NEW YORK – The rollout of vaccines in New York City — once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic — has been plagued by stark racial disparities, with Black and Latino residents receiving far fewer doses than white residents, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said.
The city’s demographic data was incomplete, but the information available revealed for the first time that white New Yorkers are navigating the city’s complicated vaccination system more easily. Of nearly 300,000 city residents who received one dose and whose race was recorded, about 48% were white, 15% were Latino, 15% were Asian and 11% were Black.
Latino and Black residents were underrepresented: The city’s population is roughly 29% Latino and 24% Black.
The disparities were even more striking among city residents age 65 and up: Only 9% of the roughly 125,000 older New Yorkers vaccinated were Black.
De Blasio, a Democrat in his second term, said he was frustrated that New Yorkers in communities of color that were hardest hit by the pandemic were not getting vaccinated. He pledged to address the problem by improving the appointment scheduling system and increasing outreach in more languages.
“Clearly we do see a profound disparity that needs to be addressed aggressively and creatively,” de Blasio said at a news conference.
Other cities and states across the country have seen similar racial disparities in the vaccine rollout. In New Jersey, about 48% of vaccine recipients were white while only 3% were Black, even though about 15% of the state’s population is Black, according to state data. In Chicago, about 15% of vaccine recipients were Black and 53% were white.
Elected officials in New York City immediately blamed de Blasio for failing to reach Black and Latino residents. The city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, and comptroller, Scott Stringer, held a joint news conference Sunday, calling the rollout “almost criminal” and a “national embarrassment.”
“This is a moral and management failure of the highest order,” said Stringer, who is running for mayor.
They called on de Blasio to stop vaccinating people who live outside the city, to fix the confusing scheduling websites and to provide paid time off for essential workers to get vaccinated.
In New York City, about 600,000 people have received a first dose of the vaccine since mid-December. De Blasio has repeatedly said that the city is running out of doses and cannot accelerate the rollout without a greater supply. The city only had about 53,000 first doses left Sunday.
De Blasio said the best way to address racial disparities was to increase the city’s supply so that more New Yorkers were getting the vaccine and officials could “gain trust organically” among residents who are reluctant to get the shot. “I honestly believe that’s the single best cure to this problem,” he said. The mayor has set a goal of having 5 million New Yorkers vaccinated by June.
The city’s demographic data is imperfect – the mayor said many people did not provide their race, and some health providers did not properly collect it. The race of about 263,000 people who received at least one dose of the vaccine was not known.
But for those who did provide their information, white residents — who make up about 32% of the city’s population — were overrepresented. Asians were represented at about their share of the city population: About 14% of New York City residents are Asian, and 15% of vaccine recipients were.
New Yorkers have complained about the complex system for scheduling an appointment and long wait times on phone lines. Younger people have been helping older relatives secure an appointment, and some appointments have been canceled as the city’s supplies dropped.
The data showed that at least 94,000 people who live outside the city were vaccinated in New York. De Blasio has defended that trend, saying many of those vaccinated work in the city. Among people from outside the city who received the shots, the racial divide was even wider: About 59% were white and 7% were Black.
The mayor said the city would eventually release additional data by ZIP code to give a better picture of who is getting vaccinated.
After a media report on one vaccination site in Manhattan where too many outsiders were receiving doses, the health network that runs the site agreed last week to prioritize residents from the local community and to give new vaccine slots only to New Yorkers.
De Blasio said that the problems at the site, the Armory Vaccination Center in Washington Heights – where nearly 70% of residents are Latino – were the “exact opposite of what we need.”
“If a site is in a community, particularly a community hard hit by COVID, it should be all about reaching out to that community and bringing people in,” de Blasio said last week.
Mark Levine, a city councilman who chairs the council’s health committee, has called for several measures to close what he called the “vaccine equity gap,” including giving residents of local ZIP codes scheduling priority in communities of color.
“We need to take action now to fix yet another egregious case of inequity in this pandemic,” Levine said.
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