A new poll shows vaccine hesitancy dropping – albeit slowly – among African American and Hispanic New Jersey voters, considered a particularly challenging demographic to inoculate against COVID-19.
Sixty-nine percent of Black voters in the state were willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 62% in February and 60% in November, according to a poll released June 1.
Willingness among Hispanic voters to get the vaccine grew from 55% in November to 77% in February and 83% in this most recent poll.
The poll ran online between May 16 and 20, and relied on data from 1,215 respondents. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
“We know this virus has had an outsized impact on our Black and brown communities, and in communities that have been historically under-resourced, especially in terms of medical care,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at a COVID-19 press briefing in February as the state was ramping up its vaccination efforts.
The administration’s self-imposed goals call for fully vaccinating 4.7 million adults by June 30 who live, work or study in the state. As of the latest numbers, just over 4 million people have gotten their full schedule of COVID-19 shots. After that, the administration will turn its focus toward people under 16 as the federal government greenlights the vaccine’s use for younger age groups.
Most of the administered shots come from the Pfizer and Moderna versions, which both require a two-dose regimen spaced roughly a month apart. That means the final stretch of fully vaccinated New Jersey adults will need to have gotten their first shot by the beginning of June, Murphy said.
“It flipped almost overnight from a supply-demand imbalance where there were more people who wanted shots than we had … it happened quickly where it went the other way,” Murphy said last week.
In addition to wariness and uncertainty about the virus, public health officials have to grapple with outright vaccine refusal, and barriers for residents to get the vaccine.
The poll found that 35% of Black voters were already vaccinated, compared to 56% of Hispanics and 68% of white voters. Among the reasons people gave for not getting the vaccine, 43% said they were concerned about the side effects while another 43% cited mistrust in the government.
“It’s going to be close. I think we got a real shot,” the governor said last week, adding that he was “cautiously optimistic” the state can reach that goal.
Murphy’s office and several local health departments have employed an array of tactics to get more shots into the arms of Hispanic and Black New Jerseyans. Those are part of the administration’s so-called “Operation Jersey Summer.”
For lower-income, urban and typically minority communities, those efforts include mobile vaccine pop-up sites at community centers and places of worship.
Murphy said the Johnson & Johnson shot, given its storage requirements in mild temperatures, and single-shot requirement, has made it the shot of choice for those communities, and for harder-to-reach groups like the homeless.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, state and local health officials deployed mobile vaccine sites along the Jersey Shore, which typically sees high visitation during that weekend.
“[G]overnment and public health officials must continue to work directly with people to build trust and deliver vaccines to their neighborhoods from providers they trust,” said Shennell McCloud, who heads Project Ready.
Other efforts under Operation Jersey Summer include hundreds of canvassers who will knock on doors across the state to promote the vaccine and available sites, free beer and wine from participating breweries and wineries for those who get the first shot in May, free state park passes and the chance to win a sit-down dinner with the governor and first lady, walk-ins at the six vaccination mega-centers, and dosage supply to local officials and medical offices.