Average vaccination rates for students in New York City public schools—the nation’s largest school district—varied greatly by race and ethnicity, the borough where students live, and the part of the city where a school is located, according to a new study.
But the racial and geographic data held some surprises, and may raise more questions than they answer, one researcher said.
Schools serving a majority of Asian and Hispanic students had the highest average COVID-19 vaccination rates, the researchers found. About two-thirds of students received the vaccine in majority Asian schools, while a little more than half of students in schools serving mostly Hispanic students—54 percent— got the shots.
The picture was different for schools where the majority of students are either Black or white. Those schools had average vaccination rates of 44 percent.
Schools in Staten Island had the lowest vaccination rate, at 39 percent. Roughly three-quarters of the total population of Staten Island is white.
Notably, schools serving a majority of white students in two boroughs—Brooklyn and Manhattan—had much higher vaccination rates than schools serving mostly white kids in the other three boroughs. In Manhattan, those schools had a vaccination rate of nearly 62 percent, while majority white schools had an average rate of 49 percent in Brooklyn. The percentages were a lot lower in the Bronx (34 percent), Queens (29 percent), and Staten Island (25 percent).
‘Is it about trust in the public health system? Is it about politics?’
The study also found that middle school students, who have been eligible for the vaccine longer than elementary school kids, tended to be vaccinated at a higher rate than the younger children, with 65 percent of middle schoolers vaccinated compared with 39 percent of elementary students.
Although the higher average results for schools serving a majority of Asian students mirrors some national data showing high vaccination rates for Asian adults, some of the differences—particularly the local geographic differences among whites living in different parts of the same city—may point to areas ripe for further study, said Brian Elbel, a professor in the departments of population health and medicine at New York University and the lead investigator for the study.
“I think that shows us that these patterns are not always going to be simple and straightforward,” he said in an interview. “We are going to need to do a lot more work to really understand what’s behind them. Is it about availability [of the vaccine]? Is it about trust in the public health system? Is it about politics? I mean, I think there’s lots of things that could be kind of driving some of this.”
Though New York City is unique in its size and demographics, pockets of it closely resemble those in large urban areas throughout the country, Elbel said. Further probing the New York data may help researchers find answers about vaccination rates among children in other U.S. cities.
In addition to NYU, the study was conducted by Syracuse University, University of Delaware, and the New York CityDepartment of Health and Mental Hygiene. It was published Sept. 15 in the journal JAMA Network Open online.