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Why Only 27 Percent of Young Black New Yorkers Are Vaccinated

A construction site safety manager in Queens said that as a Black man, he was more worried about the prospect of being stopped by the police than he was about getting Covid-19.

A graduate student in the Bronx who had not gotten vaccinated said her worst fears seemed confirmed when a vaccine that the government was directing to Black and poorer neighborhoods was briefly suspended over a small number of dangerous blood clots.

And a civil rights activist in the Bronx said he grew suspicious when he heard last year that politicians were prioritizing minority neighborhoods for coronavirus vaccinations.

“Since when does America give anything good to Black people first?” said the activist, Hawk Newsome, a 44-year-old Black Lives Matter leader who is unvaccinated.

All three situations reflect a trend that has become a major concern to public health experts: Young Black New Yorkers are especially reluctant to get vaccinated, even as the Delta variant is rapidly spreading among their ranks. City data shows that only 27 percent of Black New Yorkers ages 18 to 44 years are fully vaccinated, compared with 48 percent of Latino residents and 52 percent of white residents in that age group.

This vaccination gap is emerging as the latest stark racial disparity in an epidemic full of them. Epidemiologists say they expect this third wave will hit Black New Yorkers especially hard.

“This is a major public health failure,” said Dr. Dustin Duncan, an epidemiologist and Columbia University professor.

In interviews, dozens of Black New Yorkers across the city — an aspiring dancer in Brownsville, a young mother of five in Far Rockaway, a teacher in Canarsie, a Black Lives Matter activist in the Bronx, and many others — gave a long list of reasons for not getting vaccinated, many rooted in a fear that during these uncertain times they could not trust the government with their health.

The fact that the virus hit Black neighborhoods disproportionately during the first wave made many extra wary of getting vaccinated: They feel that they have survived the worst and that the health authorities had failed to help them then.

But ultimately, many also said they would get vaccinated if forced to do so.

“If it’s going to be mandatory to work, I’ll have no choice,” said Kaleshia Sostre, a 27-year-old from Red Hook, Brooklyn, who teaches parenting classes to young mothers.

In Canarsie, Brooklyn, a 21-year-old college student, Justin Mercado, said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent announcement that dining in a restaurant would require proof of vaccination got his attention. He is now likely to get vaccinated.

“I want to go on a date sometime and enjoy life as much as I can before this strain shuts us back down,” Mr. Mercado said.

For months, the city had focused its vaccination campaign on older residents who are at higher risk of hospitalization and death.

But lately the city has begun to reach out more to young New Yorkers, offering $100 payments for first doses, urging students to get vaccinated before school starts and nudging employers to pressure their employees to get vaccinated.

“We’re not done yet,” said Dr. Torian Easterling, the chief equity officer of the New York City Health Department. “We’re continuing to announce more interventions and more strategies to support New Yorkers getting vaccinated.”

In interviews, Black men and women said that much of their distrust of the coronavirus vaccine was shaped by their own experiences with discrimination or their identity as Black Americans.

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“I’m supposed to worry about getting sick when I go outside, versus getting killed by a cop or something like that?” said Jayson Clemons, 41, the construction site safety manager from Queens. After years of trying to be careful not to give the police a reason to stop him — avoiding cars with window tint or rims, and making sure when commuting that his attire clearly marked him as a construction worker — he said he refused to be preoccupied by Covid-19.

He said he would rather put his trust in masks and hand sanitizer — which he credits with keeping him healthy as he worked at construction sites throughout the pandemic — than a new vaccine that the government is pushing people to take. “They came out with one so fast for Covid, and now they want to pay you to take it,” he said. “It seems fishy.”

Some Black women described the need they felt to conduct their own research — and ask around — before deciding if the coronavirus vaccine was safe.

“It takes a little bit of hyper-vigilance when you’re a woman of color,” said Jazmine Shavuo-Goodwin, 31, who believes she encountered medical racism when doctors were dismissive of her severe stomach problems. “There’s a lot of homework you have to do, because your doctors may not truly listen to you, to your full complaint, before they’ve already diagnosed you.”

Ms. Shavuo-Goodwin helps manage dental clinics for Medicaid patients and is studying to be a clinical therapist. Both her job and school require her to be vaccinated against coronavirus, but she has yet to get a shot.

“I’m out of compliance,” said Ms. Shavuo-Goodwin, who is Black and lives in the South Bronx. “I have done heaps of research looking for things that would make me confident and comfortable getting the vaccine, but honestly I haven’t.”

All three vaccines being used in the United States have received an emergency authorization from the Federal Drug Administration. At least one of the vaccines is expected to get full approval by the fall.

When the vaccination campaign began last year, Mr. de Blasio said he intended to prioritize the same Black and Latino neighborhoods that were hardest hit during the devastating initial wave.

Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

    • Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
    • Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
    • College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
    • Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.  
    • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
    • New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
    • At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

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