In June, when the Minneapolis Health Department presented information to the Minneapolis City Council on vaccination rates in the city’s various zip codes, the data revealed some stark geographic differences: Less than 30 percent of residents living in certain city zip codes — including those that correspond to the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and include large parts of north Minneapolis — were fully vaccinated, even while more than 65 percent for residents living in far southwest neighborhoods, such as Linden Hills and Fulton, had completed a vaccine series.
Two months later — as the number of COVID-19 cases is rising again due to the delta variant — the city has seen a steady rise in vaccination rates, with almost 82 percent of Minneapolis residents 15 and older now fully vaccinated. And yet, stark geographic differences in vaccination rates remain.
While more than 90 percent of residents in Minneapolis’ 55410 zip code, in far southwest Minneapolis, are fully vaccinated, other parts of the city still have less than 50 percent of the population vaccinated.
In the city’s 55454 zip code, which encompasses Cedar-Riverside, 44 percent of residents were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 9, according to the city. Further east, the zip codes that include the University of Minnesota, the Marcy Holmes and Prospect Park neighborhoods, saw vaccine rates of 49, 49, and 52 percent, respectively.
And while zip codes in the city’s far northeast, downtown and along its southern border all have vaccine rates above 80 percent, the zip codes that cover a broad swath of north Minneapolis — including parts of the Near North, Willard-Hay, Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods — has a vaccine rate of 54 percent, according to the city.
The city’s lowest vaccination rates largely correspond to neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of residents who are Black, Native, Latino or East African immigrants — populations that have also been hit hardest by the pandemic, said the city’s head epidemiologist, Luisa Pessoa-Brandão.
City health officials attribute the lower vaccination rates in those communities to several factors, including a lack of access, a lack of trust in government or the medical industry, and misinformation.
“Some of the immigrant populations don’t trust that the vaccine is necessarily a good thing,” said Stephanie Graves, a coordinator for the Minneapolis Health Department. “Some folks are new to various types of Western medicine, they are getting used to preventive medicine. They’re used to seeking out a provider when something is going on.”
Complicating matters is the changing understanding of COVID-19 prevention and treatment. “Two doses, now a third — a booster — confuses people and makes them think the vaccine isn’t working,” said Pessoa-Brandão.
In north Minneapolis neighborhoods, where much of the city’s African American population resides, there is sometimes hesitancy around trusting the city government generally, and the health department specifically. “Some [Black people] have had bad experiences with the medical profession,” said Pessoa-Brandão.
To combat that, health officials have for months staffed vaccine sites throughout the city with “trusted messengers,” and partnered with community organizations that are rooted in the community. “The reason we’ve been somewhat successful is that we go out with people from the community and with the community,” said Graves.
Access also remains a factor, especially for the city’s unhoused population, though misinformation may also contribute to vaccine hesitancy. City officials have heard from people experiencing homelessness that they don’t pursue a vaccine because they’ve heard it costs money.
As much as city officials emphasize that the vaccine is free, getting a shot doesn’t always ring as a top priority for people without a home; there is also the challenge of administering two separate shots. “I think sometimes when you are dealing with all these things in your life, getting a vaccine is not a top priority,” said Pessoa-Brandão. She said she saw similar concerns during her time working to convince unhoused people to get an HIV test.
With students returning to school, health officials have also been setting up vaccination sites in city schools. They’ll be at Washburn High School for parents night on Sept. 1, and have plans for vaccination drives at South, North and Henry high schools.
“We recently had one at Pica Headstart in South Minneapolis,” said Graves. “It might not seem big, but we had 58 people come through there … It’s about going to locations where people are and where they have relationships with the local organizations.”
Yet progress remains slow. “We know that the people who have been vaccinated so far are the ones who wanted it,” said Graves. “Now we’re trying to go and encourage others and give them information so that if they were thinking about it, now they’ll maybe change their mind.”