Allen County faces big geographical differences that correlate with income and race when it comes to how many residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The county on Friday reported 90,272 fully vaccinated residents, or 30.9% of the population. The county ranks fourth-highest among the state's 92 counties in the number of fully vaccinated residents.
Allen County's vaccination percentage is essentially tied with the state's 31%.
But within the county, vaccination rates vary widely.
Two ZIP codes in southwest Allen County and two in far northwest Allen County have the highest percentage of fully vaccinated residents.
Meanwhile, two Fort Wayne ZIP codes near downtown and a rural ZIP code in far northeast Allen County have the lowest percentages.
The ZIP code with the highest vaccination rate is 46814 in southwest Allen County, with 41%. That is about six times that of the lowest, 7%, in the central city's 46803.
The 46814 ZIP code also is one of the wealthiest and least diverse in the county.
A map depicting the fully vaccinated percentage by ZIP code as of April 15 was presented at last week's meeting of the executive board of the Allen County Department of Health.
During the meeting, department Administrator Mindy Waldron said health officials are trying to remedy the disparity as they work to reduce opportunities for the virus to spread.
But health disparities are not unfamiliar to those who work in local public health, she said.
The ZIP codes with low vaccination rates “are the ones where we have work to do, and we always do,” she said. “We struggle with that.”
Meg Distler, executive director of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, said the differences in vaccination rates were not surprising.
The foundation works to help fund programs to educate and reach the medically underserved.
The ZIP codes with low vaccination rates also likely correlate with other adverse health situations, such as premature death and higher rates of chronic disease, she said.
A higher prevalence of COVID-19 is also likely in some of the same areas that have the lower vaccination rates, Distler said.
“It just reflects what we've seen,” Distler said of the vaccination differences. “This is a national problem, but it's worse in Indiana,” she said, attributing that to an inadequate level of funding for public health agencies that assist underserved populations.
Indiana has 46 public health workers per 100,000 people, compared with 138 nationally and 76 in the Midwest, Distler said.
Allen County has only nine, she said, adding the department has done an outstanding job handling the pandemic.
The other ZIP codes with low vaccination rates are 46806 at 9% and 46741 at 10%.
After the southwest 46814 area, the one with the next highest rate of vaccination, 37%, is in northwest's 46845. ZIP codes in southwest's 46804 and northwest's 46745 are tied at 31%.
In the last few weeks, efforts to reach the unvaccinated population have been stepped up.
They include registration help for refugees from Myanmar, formerly Burma, through Catholic Charities; a vaccine clinic at Amani Family Services, which also works with refugees and recent immigrant families; and a vaccination clinic at McMillen Park Community Center on Fort Wayne's south side.
Transportation help is now available through Citilink and other groups, and churches also have provided registration help. Interpreters have been present at some registration and clinic sites.
Some of those efforts have been funded because the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation has been distributing a $50,000 grant from the Foellinger Foundation from COVID-19 relief funds to assist in vaccinating underserved populations, Distler said.
The money is being distributed as $5,000 mini-grants to churches and other small, grassroots organizations, and efforts are continuing, she said.
Waldron said the health department continues working with area foundations, churches and nonprofit organizations to help people overcome barriers to getting vaccinated.
She expects more vaccination opportunities, including pop-up clinics, workplace vaccination driv es and the availability of vaccinations at pharmacies to increase vaccination percentages in upcoming weeks.
She is hopeful the disparities can be lessened.
“I do anticipate in the next few weeks that we do see an uptick in some of these ZIP codes,” Waldron said.
At a glance
ZIP codes by racial makeup, income
• According to federal census statistics, 46814 – the Allen County ZIP code with the highest COVID-19 vaccination rate – has a median household income of $121,038, and the median owner-occupied house value is $298,100. About 6% of residents live in poverty. The median is the midpoint of all incomes or values with half above and half below.
The population in 46814 is 84.8% white, while the Black population is 4.82%.
• By contrast, in 46803, the ZIP code with the lowest vaccination rate, the median income is $23,648 and median house value is $45,500. Nearly half of residents, 49.1%, live in poverty. The population is more evenly divided racially, with 41.27% white, 40.99% Black and 17.34% Hispanic.
• The second-lowest vaccination rate, in 46806, is among residents who are 37.9% white, 43.62% Black and 23.97% Hispanic. Median household income stands at $31,773, and 39.1% live in poverty. The median house value is $53,500.
• The next-highest vaccination rates are in 46845, 46804 and 46745, ZIP codes where populations are between 88.2% and 98.4% white and zero and 5.28% Black, with between 1.63% and 3.22% Hispanic. Median household incomes range from $61,328 to $98,688, and median house values go from $151,800 to $218,500, while those living in poverty range from 3.3% to 7.2%.
• The third-lowest vaccination rate, in rural 46741, is an outlier because the population is 99.14% white and heavily Amish, county health Administrator Mindy Waldron said. Median incomes and house values are slightly higher in 46741, but the poverty rate is 8.8%. That group may have religious or cultural reasons for not becoming vaccinated, health officials say.
In Elkhart County, according to health officials, Amish also face barriers such as lack of technology needed to register and transportation to clinics places far from where they live.