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Racial disparity in COVID-19 vaccinations in New York revealed in new data. What to know

David Robinson
New York State Team

Racial and ethnic disparities have emerged in the COVID-19 vaccination push in New York and threaten to extend suffering in the communities hit hardest by coronavirus infections and deaths, new data show.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday released statistics showing African American, Hispanic and Latino essential workers and elderly received disproportionately fewer COVID vaccine shots than whites.

Among the new numbers:

  • African-Americans represented 17% of eligible essential workers, including teachers, police, firefighters and other select jobs in Phase 1b, but only 5% of vaccine recipients in the group.
  • Hispanic or Latino people represented 12% of the population of New Yorkers age 65 and above eligible, but only 5% of vaccine recipients in the group.
  • African-Americans represented 13% of the age 65-plus eligible group, but only 4% of vaccine recpients.
  • 77% of the 65-plus age group were white people who accounted for 78% of vaccine recipients in the group.

Cuomo asserted the disparity in part stemmed from higher rates of vaccine hesitancy among people of color, citing recent surveys.

"The hesitancy must be addressed directly with facts and validation," Cuomo said, noting the state is launching public service announcements and pop-up vaccination clinics to address distrust and access hurdles in communities of color.

Why racial vaccine data is important

A slide from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday,  Feb 5, 2021, shows a racial breakdown of how the COVID-19 vaccine has been received.

The statistics were released after USA TODAY Network New York published a story Thursday that sourced experts saying COVID-19 vaccine demographic data should be released to address concerns about vaccine inequity.

The numbers Cuomo presented Friday during a press briefing only included percentages without other details, such as number of doses involved and location of vaccinations.

The presentation noted that between 10% and 12% of those vaccinated declined to provide race and ethnicity information.

State officials have said further data related to race and ethnicity would be added to the state's vaccine tracker website, but it wasn't immediately clear what information would be added and when.

Among the other new numbers released Friday:

  • Hispanic or Latino New Yorkers represented 14% of the 1b essential workers, but only 10% of vaccine recipients.
  • Whites represented 75% of 1b essential workers, and 74% of vaccine recipients.
  • Asians represented 7% of those age 65 and above, and 8% of vaccine recipients.

More: What we know (and don't know) about COVID-19 vaccinations among Black, Latino people in NY 

Number of dosages released

A slide from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Feb. 5, 2021, showed the racial disparity in vaccines.

So far, New York state overall has administered about 2.2 million total COVID vaccine doses as of Friday afternoon, including 1.7 million first doses, Cuomo said

He added that was nearly all of the doses New York received from the federal government during the first seven weeks of the vaccine rollout.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines currently approved require two doses for full effectiveness.

New York is currently expected to receive about 300,000 additional doses per week and is operating week-to-week, meaning it administers shots as new deliveries arrive, Cuomo said.

But delays in collecting and utilizing demographic data for vaccinations in New York and dozens of other states has complicated the push to overcome hesitancy and access barriers, experts said.

“If you don’t actually disaggregate the data, see where the people are – you will then have people die who should not be dying,” said Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, a doctor and senior adviser to the coalition who founded the National Birth Equity Collaborative.

So far, only 23 states are releasing vaccination counts by race and ethnicity, and the data is incomplete.

ZIP code-level vaccination data also is not widely available, obscuring which residents of specific neighborhoods are getting the shots. Isolated communities, such as rural and low-income pockets of urban cities, are especially vulnerable.

The preliminary figures from those 23 states are already raising concerns, according to a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The analysis shows that the share of vaccinations among Black people in those states is smaller than the number of cases among Black people in all 23 of those states, and smaller than their share of deaths in 19 states.

More:Trouble scheduling a COVID vaccine in NY? You're not alone. Here's what to know.

USA TODAY contributed to this report.

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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached atdrobinson@gannett.com and followed on Twitter:@DrobinsonLoHud