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New York's 'vaccination access deserts' may be limiting COVID-19 shot uptake

A new study suggests that New York City has vaccine deserts, where access to COVID-19 vaccination sites, such as the one pictured at the American Museum of Natural History, is limited, particularly for those living in poverty. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
A new study suggests that New York City has "vaccine deserts," where access to COVID-19 vaccination sites, such as the one pictured at the American Museum of Natural History, is limited, particularly for those living in poverty. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

June 18 (UPI) -- COVID-19 "vaccination access deserts" exist in New York City, even with more than half the population considered fully vaccinated, an analysis published Friday by JAMA Network Open found.

As of March 10, neighborhoods in the city's borough of Brooklyn, in which the White population was 40% or lower had, on average, four vaccination sites, the data showed.

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However, neighborhoods in which the White population was 40% or higher had, on average, six vaccination sites.

These were neighborhoods of similar total population densities, according to the researchers.

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Disparities were also observed along socioeconomic lines, with higher-poverty neighborhoods having one vaccination site for every 11,300 people per square mile, while lower-poverty districts had one vaccination site for every 6,800 people per square mile.

"Neighborhoods comprised of majority Hispanic/Latinx and Black individuals as well as neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty had less access to the ... vaccine," study co-author Natasha Williams told UPI in an email.

"Unfortunately, this exacerbates historical trends of disadvantage ... and begs the question whether principles of equity were ever truly considered," said Williams, an assistant professor of health and behavior at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine.

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Vaccine equity was the focus of the National Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine, a virtual meeting of doctors, nurses, public health specialists and others hosted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February.

At the time, nearly 65 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had been distributed. However, nearly two-thirds of those given the first dose of either vaccine were White, while 9% were Hispanic and 6% were Black, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

People living in higher-poverty neighborhoods also had to travel farther to receive the COVID-19 shot -- up to about three-quarters of a mile -- compared with those living in lower-poverty areas, many of whom had a vaccination site within a quarter-mile of their homes.

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Many people rely on public transportation to get around in the city, where traffic congestion is high and parking is limited and expensive.

"It is natural to read our study and think about transportation barriers, but addressing transportation access alone will not lead to higher vaccine uptake among under-served populations," Williams said.

"We should ensure transportation to vaccine sites is available to home-bound individuals, people with disabilities and low-income populations and, at the same time, we should consider how to incorporate tailored vaccination programs within communities," she said.

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As a result, higher-poverty districts had higher infection rates, with as many as 10% of coronavirus tests coming back positive, and lower vaccination rates, researchers said.

Despite these disparities, New York City had fully vaccinated more than 51% of its total population through Thursday, based on city health department figures.

Just over 44% of the U.S. population had been fully vaccinated through Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receipt of their second dose of a two-shot COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after receipt of a single-dose shot.

"While states are focusing on reopening, now is the time to prioritize the needs of these communities [and] focus on vaccine equity," Williams said.

"Efforts to address vaccine uptake must be done in partnership with local community organizations, churches and trusted sources," she said.

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