Three months into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the US, rates of vaccine acceptance have steadily climbed for Black and Latinx Americans but stayed low among white Republicans, according to recent polling by Civiqs.
Early polls about vaccine attitudes in the US revealed Black Americans were more likely to be vaccine hesitant compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Noting this gap, public health officials initiated national and local vaccine outreach efforts targeting minority groups.
But vaccine acceptance campaigns so far have failed to address who may be the most vaccine hesitant group at this point in the rollout: white Republicans.
Republicans, especially white ones, are less likely to want to get vaccinated
According to Civiqs, 56% of white Republicans said they were either unsure or would not take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available to them, compared to 31% of Black Americans, 30% of Latinx Americans, and just 7% of white Democrats.
“Vaccines are our only way out of this. If we don’t have 80-plus percent of the population vaccinated before next winter, this virus is going to come back raging,” Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, told NBC News. “What worries me is if 25 percent of Republicans say they won’t get vaccinated, that’s going to be hard to do.”
In fact, some polls have found rates of vaccine refusal among Republicans could exceed 25%. When considering vaccine acceptance based on party lines alone, 41% of Republicans said they don’t plan to get a vaccine if it’s available to them.
Pollsters at Indiana University found that blue states have lower rates of vaccine refusal than red states, and battleground states are generally somewhere in the middle.
More data from a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll published last week showed that 47% of people who supported Trump in 2020 said they wouldn’t choose to be vaccinated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he found it “disturbing” that Trump supporters were avoiding the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This is not a political issue. This is a public health issue,” Fauci said in another news appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Axios’ Orion Rummler reported.
Black and Latinx Americans still have gotten fewer vaccines
Despite a shift towards vaccine acceptance in polling, Black and Latinx Americans still have received fewer vaccines than their white counterparts, according to available racial data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled race and ethnicity data for just over half of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among that group, nearly two thirds (66%) were white, 9% were Hispanic, and 7.5% were Black, as of March 14.
Although white Americans constitute a greater proportion of healthcare workers and adults over 65 – groups that have gotten priority in the vaccine rollout – the country’s Black and Latinx populations have been more than two to three times more vulnerable to severe disease and death from the coronavirus overall.
Experts have previously told Insider that increasing outreach and education, improving access to vaccines, and partnering with trusted members of the Black and Latinx communities could increase vaccine uptake.
As a pediatric ER physician at NYU’s Bellevue Hospital, she believes everyone should get vaccinated for medical reasons and knew she could help.
Tay was able to successfully schedule appointments within two days for her two neighbors, who are in their 80s. After, she realized how she could serve a greater need.
“I thought, well, everybody in our building should get it because it would just make it a much safer place to live,” she told Insider. “So I posted signs in the mail room and then the laundry room. And I was looking specifically for seniors, because I figured the younger people can just do this on their own. Then people started calling me from within the building and it just became a thing.”
Word spread and more and more people who needed assistance with making appointments started reaching out to Tay.
“Pretty soon, I was making appointments for seniors all across New York City,” Tay said.
Tay said she spent the two weeks of vacation she had off from work making vaccine appointments. By the end of February, she’d made over 200 appointments all on her own. During the process, she realized there were whole communities in addition to the elderly who couldn’t make their own vaccine appointments, like those who were unable to afford a computer or didn’t have internet access, as well as those with language barriers or who were deaf or blind.
But then her vacation ended.
“It got to be overwhelming because I had to go back to work,” Tay said. “But there was so much work that needed to be done that I wanted to tap into other groups of people.”
Growing the team
So she recruited the help of medical students and joined the Facebook group Helping NYC get Vaccinated (Covid-19), a private group created by Chelsea Lavington, Beka HM, and Tony Ko on January 12, 2021. The group’s 6,700 members share vaccine appointment information and eligibility updates – hearing of Tay’s effort, several members also volunteered to help.
Madalyn Fernbach, 23, is a member of the Facebook group and a clinical research coordinator at Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center who’s been helping Tay. She joined the Facebook group initially in early February to secure a vaccine appointment for her grandmother, but saw an opportunity to continue to help out others in need of assistance.
Since coming on alongside Tay, Fernbach said she’s made 50 appointments, including one for a woman who specifically wanted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The first appointment Fernbach was able to find for her was at 2 a.m. The woman enthusiastically took the slot and immediately asked Fernbach if she could find an appointment for her husband. Fernbach tried to explain to the woman how difficult that would be, but right at that moment another appointment for the same time popped up. The couple was extremely grateful for Fernbach’s assistance and said their vaccination process went smoothly.
“I work from home right now, so this is a great way without being on the front lines to do your part and contribute to the pandemic efforts,” Fernbach said. “I challenge other healthcare workers who have the luxury of working from home who want to make a difference to join causes like this and help local seniors or local community members find ways to get their appointments.” As of March 10, Tay’s entire team has made about 300 vaccine appointments.
Do you have a vaccine story you want to share? Contact Lauryn Haas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making the process as seamless as possible for vulnerable communities
To make the process as smooth as possible, Tay has a phone number that those who need help can call, and she’s also set up a Gmail account for email requests that are then sent to volunteers like Fernbach. As of March 10, there are 870 requests to be processed.
Tay also created more flyers in multiple languages to put up throughout the city in places like senior centers. She said she asked a friend for help with the Spanish translation, while her father helped her translate the flyer into Chinese.
“I’ve definitely tapped into the Chinese community, but I wish that we could also do the same with other pockets in New York City as well,” she said.
Tay said that the most difficult community to reach are the elderly who don’t own computers because the main way for them to find out about her is by seeing the flyers around town. At a time like this when everyone is staying indoors it’s even harder, and often they can only be reached by word of mouth.
To snag appointments, Tay and her now dozens of volunteers routinely visit seven or eight websites with vaccination slots, like the NYC COVID-19 Vaccine Finder and Vax 4 NYC, and refresh the pages until they can find an opening.
Tay said she works on this during evenings and weekends when she isn’t at her day job, and Fernbach even helps out on her lunch break. The team also follows the Twitter account Turbo Vax (@turbovax), a bot account that tweets available vaccine appointments from city- and state-run administration sites.
Overcoming obstacles like privacy and documentation
Finding an appointment is one challenge of the process, but another is getting some residents who are eligible for the vaccine to share the required information.
Tay said that she was recently helping one gentleman over the phone who refused to give her the information she needed to make his appointment, like his address and birthday. They went back and forth, and he got rude with her before hanging up the phone. She happened to see a location right next to where he lived and made the appointment for him anyways.
“He called me back and he was very apologetic,” she said. “‘I didn’t know him, but I knew he needed it.” She added that the man ended up making a donation to Bellevue to thank her for her service.
Tay said that there are also many undocumented immigrants in New York City who want the vaccine but are too nervous to reveal personal details. It helps that the undocumented immigrants she works with are usually referred by a friend of a friend. She also worked with an immigration lawyer, who provided blank templates for undocumented immigrants to fill out and take to their appointments.
“They’re just afraid to appear,” she said. “They’re afraid to get the vaccine, but they need to. In Queens and in Brooklyn, there’s different pockets with a lot of immigrants who have really suffered a lot from COVID. And that is the population that I’m trying to target so we can help keep everybody safe.”
She said the people she’s helped are often very grateful, but she’s not looking for any tokens of appreciation.
“We get a lot of people who really want to give us things or take us out to lunch,” Tay said. “And really this is not about anything that’s materialistic in any way. This is simply just so that everybody can become healthy.”
If you’re a New York City resident who needs help making a vaccine appointment, you can fill out this form to request help from Tay and her volunteers. For those looking to join Tay and her team, you can fill out this form.