Florida COVID-19 vaccine rates low in Black, Republican communities; where internet is scant

·8 min read
A person receives the COVID-19 vaccine August 13th at the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth.
A person receives the COVID-19 vaccine August 13th at the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth.

Few members of Florida communities where most people are Black or Republican, or where internet access and voter participation are lacking, have gotten the free COVID-19 vaccine, a Palm Beach Post analysis using non-public state data now shows.

For the first time since the summer, Florida health officials have revealed data that can show vaccination rates by race and ethnicity in virtually all of the state’s 67 counties. And a Palm Beach Post analysis of this database, obtained by lawyers representing a consortium of news outlets, reveals stark inoculation divides along racial and political lines — among other factors — down to the ZIP code.

While 64% of Florida residents had gotten at least one shot as of Nov. 5, the latest available data, which includes race and ethnicity, shows that immunization levels remain much lower in communities where many residents are younger or lack college degrees.

In Palm Beach County, where 66% of the population was vaccinated as of Nov. 5, about 27% of Black residents and 49.6% of Hispanics had received at least one shot, the state data shows. The same was true for about 44% of white people.

Medical workers did not record racial and ethnic information for about 17% of vaccine recipients.

Previously: Florida counties Trump won big have state's lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates

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Statewide, 29% of Black residents and 56% of Latinos had gotten the jab, compared with at least 42% of whites.

Still, the analysis shows lagging vaccination rates among Black residents in nearly every part of Florida.

In the state’s biggest county, Miami-Dade, where nearly 84% of the population had gotten their shots, just 29% of non-Hispanic Black residents are vaccinated. Even if every vaccinated Black resident whose ethnicity is unknown was added to that count, the immunization level would rise only 5.6 percentage points.

The state’s database covers more than 13.8 million Florida residents vaccinated as of Nov. 5, listing their ZIP codes and counties of residence, along with racial and ethnic information if medical workers administering the shots collected that information and if the recipient supplied it.

For each Florida county, The Post compared the number of vaccinated people listed as Black, white or Hispanic with population counts for each group calculated by the 2020 census. Race and ethnicity are not listed for some of the inoculated — up to 18% for some counties.

Statewide, race is not listed for about 16% of recipients. And 30.4% either did not say whether they’re Hispanic, or medical workers did not collect that information.

Zooming into ZIP codes, however, reveals the racial, political and technological divides in vaccinations.

Just 52% of residents living in majority Black ZIP codes had gotten at least one shot of the vaccine as of Nov. 5, compared with 64% in ZIP codes where whites are the majority and 79% in majority-Hispanic areas.

Racial and ethnic information were unknown in just 9% of residents living in majority Black ZIP codes.

Vaccinations climb in some ZIPs with majority Black residents

Immunization was high or climbing in a few Black communities in Florida.

At least 91% of residents are vaccinated in ZIP code 32332, covering Gretna, a town of more than 1,000 people — 87% of them Black — about 30 miles northwest of Tallahassee.

And 40% of Black people in neighboring 32351, covering Quincy and Greensboro, had gotten at least one injection as of Nov. 5, a similar level to white residents.

Both ZIP codes are in Gadsden County, the only majority Black county in Florida. About 60% of its nearly 44,000 residents are vaccinated. The Post used U.S. Census Bureau statistics covering 2015 to 2019 for analysis in each ZIP code because data at that geographic level is not yet available from the 2020 census.

Farther south, the rural, majority Black city of Belle Glade, in western Palm Beach County, has seen some success inoculating its residents, though it’s been an uphill fight.

Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson on Jan. 5 became the first person in The Glades to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson on Jan. 5 became the first person in The Glades to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

On Sept. 25, the city bought $100 gift cards using money from the American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief package signed in March by President Joe Biden and gave them to residents who showed up to a gospel concert and got their first shots. On that day, medical workers immunized 104 residents, the biggest single-day total in more than five months in the Belle Glade ZIP code of 33430.

Fish, tacos, ice cream, $100 gift cards to entice vaccinations

“When you’re doing stuff for people, you wanna entertain them,” Vice Mayor Mary Wilkerson said. “So we did music. We brought groups in. We did a variety — Motown and a variety of music. We had barbecue, fish, tacos, an ice cream truck, you name it.”

Residents who showed up to another concert Oct. 23 for their second coronavirus vaccine doses were entered into a drawing for another gift card, Wilkerson said. And the state data shows that 61 residents also got their first jabs, the most in a single day that month.

Still, just 46.5% of the Belle Glade ZIP code’s population had been at least partially inoculated as of Nov. 5. It’s the most populous of the ZIP codes in the Glades, the majority Black farming communities along Lake Okeechobee, home to the country's biggest sugar cane-growing region.

COVID-19 killed six members of one Belle Glade family within three weeks this summer.

In these remote towns — fewer than 38,000 people total in each ZIP code covering them — the majority of households lack internet access, allowing misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine to spread faster than facts. Shots had reached just 47% of residents living in Florida ZIP codes where less than 50% of households have internet subscriptions.

When Wilkerson talks to unvaccinated locals in Belle Glade, especially younger ones, she said she hears, “‘I ain't taking the shot. I don’t know what's in it.’” And, she said, she sometimes retorts with, “Y’all need to stop listening to these street doctors. They don’t have a medical license.”

And, she added, when unvaccinated people ask, “‘Ms. Wilkerson, you took the shot?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They said, ‘Which one did you take?’ I said, ‘Moderna. … So what I did, I said, ‘Do you know who put together the ingredients for the Moderna shot?’”

If Wilkerson is near an internet-connected computer, she said, she looks up Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the African-American immunologist who helped design the Moderna vaccine. “I read her bio, where she came from,” she said. “These people would make something to kill themselves and their family members? Do you think they'd make that?”

Comparing the state Health Department data to voter registration records and Census estimates also show that relatively few people are immunized in the types of communities where most people voted for Donald Trump.

Lower inoculation rates in Republican territory

In ZIP codes where the majority of voters were registered Republicans at the time of the 2020 presidential election, vaccine doses had been injected into 61% of residents as of Nov. 5.

Inoculation rates fall even lower in pro-GOP places with a high proportion of people without college degrees, who fit the description of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters.

Just 47% of residents in the Nassau County ZIP code of 32011, northwest of Jacksonville, had gotten the vaccine. About two-thirds of voters there are registered Republicans.

COVID-19 killed four unvaccinated family members of one woman in Callahan, the biggest town in the ZIP code, within one week in July. Tiffany Devereaux lost her mother, grandmother, her fiancé and his father in a span of five days. She told The Jacksonville Times-Union that they were all afraid of getting vaccinated.

Her fiancé, Britt McCall, posted pro-Donald Trump articles on Facebook.

In ZIP code 32409, just north of Panama City, 40.5% of people had opted for at least one dose of the vaccine. In the neighboring 32466 ZIP code, the inoculation rate was 37%.

In both those communities, where the supermajority of voters are registered Republicans, the share of adults ages 25 and older who graduated with four-year colleges was lower than the statewide estimate of 30%.

But vaccine protection was much higher in Republican areas with many highly educated people. In ZIP code 32561 — Pensacola Beach and Gulf Breeze — where the majority of residents ages 25 and older hold college degrees, inoculations covered two-thirds of residents.

Lower voter turnout and low vaccine uptake also went hand in hand, The Post’s analysis shows.

In the western Lakeland ZIP code of 33815, where 58% of registered voters cast ballots in the 2020 election, just 45% of residents had been vaccinated. Statewide, 77% of eligible voters cast ballots.

Many residents from communities where most people haven’t yet hit age 30 passed on immunization.

In the Pensacola-area ZIP code of 32508, home to the Naval Air Station, about half of residents are younger than 20. Just 8% were vaccinated. The same was true for 15% of people who listed 33620 as their ZIP code, covering the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Immunizations covered 33.5% of residents in the west Tallahassee ZIP code of 32304, the home of Florida State University. In Alachua County, where the University of Florida is, and where nearly half of residents are younger than age 30, vaccine coverage varied.

At least one shot of the vaccine had reached the arms of about 65% of residents in ZIP code 32607, west of Gainesville. But just 19% of people living in the heart of the city, ZIP code 32612 — next to UF — had gotten injections.

Chris Persaud is a data reporter for The Palm Beach Post.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida COVID vaccines the lowest among Republicans, Black people, areas without internet