As health officials work to close gaps in COVID-19 vaccination rates in hard-hit communities, an ongoing USC study of public attitudes and behaviors during the pandemic offered hope Wednesday that more Black and Latino residents are warming to the idea of being vaccinated.

According to figures provided by the county Department of Public Health, the survey found that in early December, about 63% of adult residents in the county were very likely or somewhat likely to get the vaccine, but the figure rose to 73% by mid-February.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the greatest gains in that percentage were among Black and Latino residents, with gains of 21% and 24%, respectively.

“However, vaccine hesitancy remains more pronounced among Black and Latinx residents, with only 52% of Black residents and 70% of Latinx residents saying they’re likely to be vaccinated,” Ferrer said. “This is compared to 80% of white residents and 81% of Asians who are noting they are likely to be vaccinated.”

She said she understands the continued hesitancy, with reasons ranging from “the newness of the vaccine to a long and troubling history of mistreatment of Black and Brown people by the medical establishment.”

“We also know that government agencies, including ourselves, are not always trusted sources of information,” Ferrer said.

She said the county has been working closely with community leaders and organizations, as well as churches, to provide access to the vaccines, as well as “providing accurate information about the vaccine itself.”

“This vaccine does hold great promise for preventing illness and death from COVID-19,” she said. “We also honor the right for each person to make their own decision about if and when to get vaccianted. Our hope is when it’s your turn, you’ll be well-informed and supported in making your decision.”

Ferrer announced Wednesday that additional groups are now eligible for the shots — custodians/janitors, public transit workers and airport ground crew workers. Also eligible are social workers who handle cases of violence and abuse, and foster parents “providing emergency housing for young people.”

And starting Monday, the county will adhere to new state guidance that expands eligibility to everyone aged 16 to 64 with an underlying health condition that makes them susceptible to severe illness or death from COVID-19.

The state guidance says vaccinations will be offered to people between ages 16 and 64 who suffer from:

— cancer;

— chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above;

— chronic pulmonary disease;

— Down syndrome;

— weakened immune system from solid organ transplant;

— pregnancy;

— sickle cell disease;

— heart conditions;

— severe obesity; and

— Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Also becoming available for vaccines will be anyone 16 or over who suffers from a “developmental or other severe high-risk disability” that leaves the person susceptible to serious illness or death from COVID. People will also be eligible if acquiring COVID will limit the person’s ability to receive necessary ongoing care or services; or if the disability would hamper the person’s ability to be treated for COVID.

Ferrer said the state is expected to release guidance by the end of this week on how people with such conditions can verify their eligibility if they go to a public vaccination site. She also said health care facilities “are working to use their health record system to identify patients who have these conditions and reach out to them to help them get vaccinated.”

She urged people who may fall into one of the new categories to “connect with your primary care physician or your primary care clinician, because they might have very good information about vaccination opportunities.”

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