Less than 50% of residents in certain North, Central and West Long Beach ZIP codes have been vaccinated against COVID-19, raising concerns among health experts and community members alike as a more contagious delta strain of the virus is becoming more prevalent.
The 90805 zip code in North Long Beach, which is home to over 95,000 residents, and the 90813 ZIP code spanning from West to Central Long Beach including Cambodia Town, remain below a 50% vaccination rate, according to the city’s vaccine data portal.
Citywide, 56.2% of all residents have been vaccinated, but it more well resourced areas such as East Long Beach’s 90815 ZIP code the total is near 70%.
About 42.2% of residents in the 90813 ZIP code and 47.3% of people in the 90805 ZIP code have been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 infections in Long Beach have begun to tick back up. Positivity rates doubled from 1% on June 18 to 2.1% on June 29. The people who are getting sick are mostly unvaccinated, according to health officials.
Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who represents the western end of communities in the 90813 ZIP code, said the uptick in COVID-19 cases and the arrival of the more contagious delta variant is “scary” for residents who have not yet taken the vaccine.
“There’s a continuous concern coming from me in these ZIP codes where we have the most minorities and the hardest to reach,” she said.
Zendejas said the approach to entice low-income communities must be more creative and offer free incentives that help everyone who gets a vaccine.
“We need to step it up and say, ‘Hey, get a vaccine and get a free meal,’” Zendejas said. “We need incentives that are going to help them with what they are going through. A raffle is great, but only helps one person.”
City officials have recruited the help of local nonprofits to lead vaccination efforts in communities where there are families who speak different languages. Groups such as AOC7 in Central Long Beach, and Puente Latino Association in North Long Beach have been reaching out to residents in Khmer and Spanish to educate residents in densely populated neighborhoods about getting vaccinated.
Another group, the Filipino Migrant Center, has incorporated COVID-19 education for residents who speak Tagalog into their worker and migrant advocacy. Romeo Hebron, executive director of the migrant center, said the delta variant poses a threat to low-income communities just as it did when the pandemic first began. Information about the vaccines in languages that people understand is crucial in reaching communities in areas where vaccination rates are low, Hebron said.
“Partnering with community churches or organizations is important,” he added. “Those are longstanding institutions in the neighborhood.”
Matthew Hamlet, chief of staff for Councilman Rex Richardson who represents the 90805 ZIP code, said more investment toward community-based groups on the ground that are talking with people reluctant to take the vaccine is the priority moving forward.
“We always knew because of barriers that it was going to be tougher for communities of color to get the vaccine,” Hamlet said. “Now we have to do the hard work, and we’re focusing on trusted messengers to do this.”
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