Burbank’s 91501 zip code area has a lower vaccination rate than any of the city’s other zones, according to state data, though the reason for this remains unclear.
Roughly 60.6% of residents ages 12 and older who live in the 91501 zip code were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 17, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. The other four Burbank zip code neighborhoods have vaccination rates ranging from 64.5%, in the 91504 area, to 77.5%, in the 91505 area.
It is unapparent why the northeastern section of Burbank has the lowest vaccination rate of any zip code area in the city. And because the state’s data isn’t more specific than zip code reference, knowing precisely which neighborhoods have low rates remains difficult.
The data puzzled Eric Baumgardner, the city’s emergency management coordinator.
“That is actually a surprising area,” Baumgardner said. “This kind of shocks me.”
He speculated that the 91501 might have a high percentage of residents under the age of 18, noting that youth tend to have lower vaccination rates than older people.
But according to 2019 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the 91501 has a higher median age compared to most other areas in Burbank. The agency reported roughly 16% of the 91501’s population was under 18 that year — though the margin of error shows that figure could fluctuate by up to 2% — a percentage that was lower than that of three other Burbank zip code areas.
The 91501 also has the highest percentage of white residents and people born outside the United States, according to the Census.
The estimated median household income for the 91501 in 2019 was about $67,800, below that of three other Burbank zip codes — and the city’s overall median household income of $75,800 — but far from the lowest of the zip codes.
While it could be one, income level isn’t the only factor potentially related to community’s vaccination rate, said Vickie Mays, a UCLA professor of psychology, and health policy and management. Access to health insurance and work hours can also affect someone’s willingness — or ability — to get the shot, she explained.
“Access can be an issue depending on how you work,” Mays said.
A model created by Mays and other experts at the UCLA BRITE Center for Science, Research and Policy shows the 91501 as having the second-poorest conditions in the city for multiple risk factors related to COVID-19, such as housing density, barriers to health care and social vulnerability. The zip code in Burbank that by far ranked most poorly for indicators was the 91502 area. Perhaps surprisingly, the zone ranks in the middle for the city’s vaccination rate, with 65.6% fully vaccinated.
Political and religious beliefs can also serve as factors, she added, noting the possibility that they could cause some residents in the 91501 zip code area to view the vaccine as unhelpful or inappropriate for them. While the area’s precincts all voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, a New York Times map analyzing voting data shows, the margin was smaller in much of the region compared to the rest of the city.
RESIDENT EXPLAINS STANCE
And there are exceptions even in local areas with high vaccination rates. Rafael Kosche, who lives in the 91506 zip code — which had Burbank’s second-highest vaccination rate at 73.5% — said that while he’s not anti-vaccine, he’s wary of newer technology.
The sales professional said he’s hesitant to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The mRNA technology is exciting, he added, but he wants to get a more traditional vaccine that uses an inactivated virus for inoculation.
“Everyone’s saying, ‘trust the science,’ but I hope people understand that the science is trial and error, and learning and improving over time,” Kosche said.
Kosche would be more comfortable with getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he said, which uses a disabled adenovirus containing coronavirus DNA to teach an immune system how to fight COVID-19. But Kosche explained that the rare reports of the vaccine causing blood clots concern him; he’s overweight and has some health issues, he added, and doesn’t want to risk a complication.
Even with his conditions, Kosche said he doesn’t think COVID-19 will severely affect him if he gets sick. At least, he added, that’s his hope.
United States health experts have reported that the coronavirus vaccines distributed in the country are safe and effective, and that any side effects appear within weeks of receiving the shot.
Nonetheless, the local resident’s concerns about vaccine safety is a common one. In a recent U.S. Census Bureau multiple-choice survey of L.A. metropolitan area residents who remained unvaccinated, 37% expressed concerns about possible side effects. About a third of respondents said they planned to wait to see if the vaccines are safe, while nearly a quarter reported not trusting COVID-19 vaccines.
Most of Kosche’s neighbors who haven’t been vaccinated, he said, have based their stance on misinformation. Despite his own reservations, Kosche said that he has tried to assuage other residents’ fears about the mRNA technology, but admitted he also shares their apprehensions regarding the public messaging on the vaccines.
He believes public officials and the media are engaging both in “scare tactics” and enticement — such as via the governor’s million-dollar lotteries for vaccinated residents. The pressure makes Kosche wary of the government’s intentions with the vaccine, he said, adding that he’d feel more comfortable if officials explained why they aren’t offering the same types of vaccines as other countries.
Not doing so, Kosche explained, “just increases the suspicion that something’s amiss and that they’re not owning up to or they don’t want us to know about.”
“That builds more distrust, and I’m not taking anything from anybody I don’t trust,” he concluded.
ADDRESSING VACCINE CONCERN
To boost vaccinations in communities where rates are low, UCLA professor Mays said, health officials need to know what questions residents are asking and use evidence to answer them. Consulting with local community groups could also help officials understand those apprehensions, she added.
But Mays believes officials also need to show that they’re willing to address the long-term concerns community members have about their health, such as long wait times at clinics or access to telehealth check-ups.
“You have to show up with more than a needle,” Mays said. “You have to show up with a plan.”
As coronavirus infections and hospitalizations rise across the United States, the psychological impact on communities is also mounting, according to Mays. Some might be facing grief and anxiety from losing loved ones, while others might be experiencing stress from the prospect of becoming unemployed.
Meanwhile, she added, some communities’ resistance to getting the vaccine could be growing.
“The slower we are to get to these communities, the more it’ll take to really convert people into getting vaccinated,” Mays said.