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Sharp Drop In Black And Asian American COVID-19 Vaccination Rates In Updated N.H. Data

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New updates to the COVID-19 vaccine data provided by New Hampshire state officials show striking impacts on vaccination rates for Black and Asian American Granite Staters.

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Alli Fam
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Alli Fam
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The state has released race and ethnicity vaccination data on a weekly basis since March 2021. While racial and ethnic disparities have persisted, they have slowly improved.

The updated data on the state’s newly-released dashboard does not set the state back to the level of racial disparity seen early in the vaccine rollout, but the white to Black vaccination disparity is now similar to what the state eporrted in early May. The state did not respond to several requests for comment.

Before the dashboard was updated, on July 20, state data showed the estimated percentage of Black people in New Hampshire having received at least one shot of the COVID vaccine to be at 42.6 percent. On Aug. 6, with the new dashboard, it’s at 33.0 percent. Percentages for Asian Americans also dropped, from 71.5 percent having received at least one shot, as of July 20th, to 58.1 percent now. Percentages dropped only slightly for white and Latino Granite Staters.

With the updated percentages, white people in the state have received at least one shot of the vaccine at 1.6 times the rate of Black residents, a disparity higher than the national average of 1.3, as reported by Kaiser Family Foundation. New Hampshire’s rate of white to Latino vaccination is currently at 1.3, also higher than the national average of 1.1.

With the updated dashboard, the state has begun separating non-New Hampshire residents from its count, which is one reason percentages could have shifted so notably for Black and Asian residents. The state’s dashboard shows it has administered over 45,000 doses of the vaccine to non-residents.

In response to a question about a different story from NHPR, a state spokesperson said before the updated dashboard went live, they reported numbers based on all doses administered including some to out-of-state residents.

Just several thousand shots going to people of color who live out of state is enough to swing New Hampshire’s percentages significantly. 2019 Census data places the total number of Black New Hampshire residents at around 20,000 and Asian Americans at around 40,000.

The state has not confirmed whether the separation of non-residents is behind the drop in vaccinations, or if there is another explanation for the change.

Community Leader Says Cities And Businesses Need To Get Involved

Clifton West Jr., a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Seacoast, has been working with local public health networks in their vaccination efforts. He says suddenly seeing only 33 percent of Black residents with at least one shot of the vaccine raises concern.

He says the effort to increase vaccination rates, both for Black residents and the state as a whole, needs to be better distributed. West says it can’t always fall so heavily on unpaid community leaders like himself or even the region's public health network.

“The cities need to get more involved to figure out how we reach these community members. Businesses need to get more involved,” West says.

The lack of county-specific race and ethnicity data from the state is also frustrating for West, because he’s only working in one area. Without the county-specific data, he says it’s hard to know who to target for outreach.

The regional public health networks West has partnered with say they feel similarly. Scott Schuler, the Seacoast COVID-19 complex incident commander, says statewide data like this isn’t very helpful for their work. What they need, Schuler says, is more localized data to help them target their efforts and strategize with community leaders.

Incomplete Data Stymies Targeted Vaccination Efforts

The racial and ethnic categories the state uses also include significant gaps. Strafford County has a large Indonesian population, for example, but there isn’t any data that captures vaccination rates in that community specifically.

Ashley L. Desrochers, the public health program manager for Strafford County Public Health, is one of several public health officials who have questions about the collection and accuracy of the race and ethnicity data.

Desrochers has helped coordinate many of the region's vaccination clinics. She says, unfortunately, not all who collect demographic information are properly trained. Sometimes, she says, that means race may be assumed based on appearance or left blank.

Health officials leading equity clinics targeting disproportionately impacted communities also made the conscious decision, in some cases, not to ask about race or ethnicity or collect addresses, in order to make attendees feel more comfortable accessing the vaccine.

As of July 20, 2021, the state reported knowing the patient’s race and ethnicity for over 90 percent of vaccines administered. In a footnote to that July report, the state also notes that its numbers do not include some federal vaccine programs. The state’s current dashboard estimates that to be around 24,000 doses administered in New Hampshire.

Other community leaders in the state say that some people of color may choose to identify as white when getting a vaccine, because it feels safer, or they may not see their identity represented in one of the options listed.

Vaccination, Age And Access

Age is another factor that may contribute to the disparity in vaccination rates. New Hampshire’s population of people of color skews disproportionately younger than the white population, and people under the age of 12 are still not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

A 2019 brief from the University of New Hampshire showed that New Hampshire is becoming more racially diverse, particularly among children. The brief noted that around 20 percent of the white population is over age 65, compared to 7 percent of the minority population.

State data show large age disparities in vaccination. Those in their 70s have received at least one dose of the vaccine at around twice the rate of those in their 20s. Older New Hampshire residents have had more time to get vaccinated due to earlier availability for their age groups.

New Hampshire's racial and ethnic disparities remain concerning to advocates, especially because people of color, in New Hampshire and nationally, have borne a disproportionate share of cases and deaths from the coronavirus.

But as he continues working, Clifton West Jr. is careful to not let the numbers on the state dashboard erase the hours of individual conversations he’s still having with people on the Seacoast every week. He’s still answering questions about the vaccine and pointing people toward local clinics, pharmacies and the latest public health information.

And Schuler encourages community members to reach out to their local public health network if they want to coordinate a clinic or even ask questions about the vaccine or the virus, “We are wanting to engage,” Schuler said. “Please, please, please. We're here.”

Editor's Note: After publication of this story, we have noticed irregularities in the dashboard, as seen below. We have reached out to the state for more details.

We're continuing our coverage of COVID-19 and the vaccination effort in New Hampshire. Questions about this story? Reach out to voices@nhpr.org.

Copyright 2021 New Hampshire Public Radio

Alli Fam