Hudson County is one of the most racially diverse places in the country. Unfortunately, communities of color are severely underrepresented in our county-run COVID-19 vaccination site. As of this week, the numbers are dire: “While Hispanic residents make up nearly 43% of Hudson County’s population, they comprise only 18.5% of the people who have been vaccinated at the county’s USS Juneau Memorial Center in South Kearny. Black residents make up just under 15% of the county population, but represent less than 3% of those vaccinated there.”
At the heart of the problem lies the fact that the Kearny site is set up only to vaccinate people in their cars. Simply put, if you are one of the 25% of Hudson County residents that live in a household without a car, your county won’t help vaccinate you. We know that a car can be a luxury for many—according to the Regional Plan Association, as many as three-quarters of local bus riders in New Jersey are essential workers, the majority making under $30,000 per year. And in Jersey City, people of color are 16% more likely to live in a household without a car. Many residents can’t afford to own a vehicle that would facilitate their access to the vaccine.
There is no good reason for Hudson County to distribute vaccines so unequally.
First and foremost, if someone can access the site by bus, foot, or bicycle, they should be allowed to be vaccinated. The county must set up a process at the Kearny site to administer the vaccine to people outside of cars. Alternatively, the county could make use of space in our county parks to set up pedestrian-friendly stations where people could make appointments just like at the Kearny site.
However, even if pedestrian options are implemented, the site in Kearny is still out-of-the-way for many residents, especially since there is only a single NJ Transit bus route that services the area. Hudson County needs to provide additional transportation options. The county could borrow from the playbook of Jersey City, which has partnered with Uber to provide free rides for certain residents to city-run vaccine sites. The county could also provide a scheduled shuttle service from a few major transit hubs or bus thoroughfares in different parts of the county (e.g., Journal Square, Bergenline Avenue, Kennedy Boulevard).
These plans would address the accessibility problem, and potentially even be a more popular option than the current drive-through model, given that half of commuters in Hudson County either use public transportation or walk to work.
Even though other vaccination options are available, the county’s vaccination site in Kearny remains the fastest option for many people. People of color are overrepresented among frontline workers and have been dying at disproportionately high rates. The price of inaction will be paid in the lives of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors. Our Hudson County government should not make people at high risk for severe COVID-19 wait months longer to receive a vaccine just because they don’t own a car.
Eleana Little is a Jersey City resident, Progressive Democrats of Hudson County Executive Vice President, NJ-08 for Progress steering committee member, and former candidate for Hudson County Commissioner in District 4.