UNION COUNTY, NJ — Although the county has administered more than 30,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses, its struggles to address vaccine rumors and increase the vaccination rate in communities of color are ongoing.

Two virtual events that face those challenges are planned for next week. 

On Monday at 6 p.m., the Union County Board of Commissioners will host a virtual town hall aimed at confronting misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines that impact communities of color.

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Attendees for Monday’s event must pre-register at http://bit.ly/vaccinetownhallucnj to receive the Zoom link.

“It is important to know where rumors come from and why they impact communities of color, in order to ensure that every Union County resident knows they have the power to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities against a lethal virus,” said Commissioner Vice Chair Rebecca Williams, in a statement.

Williams, a former Plainfield councilwoman, is slated to present on the historical background of vaccine skepticism at Monday's panel discussion with Dr. Chris T. Pernell of University Hospital in Newark, Dr. Omar M. Bey of RWJ Barnabas Health, and Dr. Gerardo Capo of Trinitas Medical Center in Elizabeth.

Vaccination rates in the U.S. vary widely by race, with communities of color being vaccinated at far below the rates that white communities are, the state data show.

In a recent county-by-county analysis by NJ Advance Media, the percentage of Black residents statewide receiving the vaccine was at least 41% lower than for white residents, and the difference was at least 45% for Hispanic/Latinx vaccine recipients compared to the overall population.

The analysis of state Health Department data found that in Union County the disparities are greater than what is typical in New Jersey, with Black residents becoming vaccinated at a 57% lower rate than the general population and Hispanic/ Latinx people becoming vaccinated at a 64% lower rate than the general population.

Next Thursday at 11 a.m., the Westfield Regional Health Department — which serves eight towns — will participate in a virtual discussion for seniors and other vulnerable members of the community entitled “COVID Vaccine: Fact or Fiction?”

Those interested in attending can email westfieldnjseniors@gmail.com, or call 908-301-1287, for the Zoom link or to ask about limited space for on-site viewing.

The panel discussion will feature Westfield Board of Health President Dr. Lawrence Budnick, Westfield Regional Health Director Megan Avallone, Westfield Board of Health Vulnerable Populations Coordinator Ellen Shelley and Dr. Pamela Brug, a Westfield resident and vice president of the New Jersey Black Women Physicians Association.

The county has been overwhelmed with high vaccine demand that exceeds its limited supply, Mirabella has said. 

But last night, he said the county has extended its mobile unit, or “pop-up clinic” with the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine to homeless shelters this week. 

Mirabella urged those who live and work in the county  to “please bear with us and keep trying,” since appointments listed on the county website or made through call 908-613-7VAX (7829) depend on vaccine availability and “supplies are very tight.”