Sen. Casey: Vaccine hesitancy among minorities is no surprise

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaks at a town hall at Penn State York on Friday, April 23.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Friday said that minorities' hesitancy to get vaccinated for COVID-19 is understandable — and new state data shows it is a clear issue in York County.

The Pennsylvania Democrat's comments after an outdoor town hall meeting at Penn State York came the same day that the state Health Department for the first time released vaccination data categorized by race, ethnicity and gender.

The vaccination rates among people of color in York County were particularly low.

About 39.3% of white residents in York County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, according to state Health Department data.

Meanwhile, that number drops to about 23% among Blacks and 22% among Hispanics.

The numbers drop significantly lower for Asian individuals and Native Americans, with 5.1% and 1.1% having received a first dose, respectively.

More:Monday update: 204 new COVID-19 cases reported in York County

More:Now you can walk into a York County Walmart to get a COVID-19 vaccine

Statewide, the following had received at least one dose: 41.5% of white people; 16% of Black people, 21.7% of Hispanics; 5.9% of Asian people; and 3.4% of Native Americans.

Those numbers could change, however, as 13.4% of patients did not report their race and 27.4% did not report their ethnicity statewide.

"There's hesitancy in minority communities for frankly a good reason," Casey said. "There's a terrible history in this country, most notably the Tuskegee Study."

The Tuskegee Study was a study on 600 Black sharecroppers with untreated syphilis conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control  between 1932 and 1972.

Even though the U.S. government promised the participants health care, they never received it, despite penicillin becoming widely available as a treatment for the disease. Nearly 130 participants died.

Decades later, amid a nationwide pandemic, hesitation to trust the government is one reason floated by health experts for why vaccination rates are low among minorities.

Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Bureau of Health, noted that in the past, transportation issues and a lack of physical proximity to vaccination sites were driving forces in minorities not getting vaccinated.

But a historic mistrust of government has paired with a lack of access to vaccines in minority neighborhoods, and the old issues have once again reared their heads.

“COVID has just brought that to the forefront,” Howie said. “We’ve known this, but it has really just exposed it in a more dramatic way. And it’s something we need to address.”

Expanding availability: In York City, efforts have been underway to bring vaccines to communities of color. Messaging to those communities has also ramped up, local officials say.

For example, Family First Health in York City and the Spanish-American Multicultural Resource Center as recently as Monday partnered with the city and local health systems to provide vaccines. 

Events held in the city and in establishments such as churches are slowly bringing better equity in vaccine distribution, said York City Council member Lou Rivera, but he added, more needs to be done in terms of messaging.

A health care worker looks away as she receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18, 2021. (Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Rivera is the founder of the Spanish-American Multicultural Resource Center.

“Throughout history, there’s been a lack of trust with vaccinations,” Rivera said. “This is no different. However, it takes people and professionals in the community to be able to convince those people to take the vaccinations in order for our people not to get sick.”

Polling about minorities' hesitation to get vaccinated has had mixed results.

According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey in March, 28% of white respondents and 25% of Black respondents reported they did not plan to get a vaccine.

That number grew significantly among Latinos, though, with 37% reporting they would not get vaccinated.

Overall numbers: As of Monday, 56,112 patients in York County had been partially vaccinated and 107,240 had been fully vaccinated.

In total, 42.4% of all York residents have received at least one dose, which ranks 33rd among the state's 67 counties.

Statewide, 1,914,947 had been partially vaccinated and 3,200,270 had been fully vaccinated. About 47% of all residents had received at least one dose.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.