Black people in New Jersey account for 17% of COVID-19 deaths but only make up 12% of the state’s population. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of June 7, Blacks make up only 8% of those who are vaccinated in the Garden State.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation last week creating the COVID-19 Pandemic Task Force on Racial and Health Disparities. Last month, the bill was returned to the state legislature with recommendations to strengthen the task force by adding additional members, including representation from the Division on Civil Rights and the Division of Consumer Affairs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted our minority communities and we must work together to eliminate the existing racial disparities in health care,” said Murphy. “The revisions sent back to the Legislature further strengthen this bill and will bring together the perspectives and expertise necessary to achieve equity and meaningful healthcare reform.”

The bill was sponsored by State Sens. Sandra Cunningham and Nellie Pou and Assemblymembers Shavonda Sumter, Angelica Jimenez, and Linda Carter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged minority communities throughout the United States,” said Cunningham. “Predominantly Black counties account for only 30% of the U.S. population, and yet they were the location of 56% of COVID-19 deaths.”

Sumter said long before the COVID-19 pandemic, Black New Jerseyans faced disparities in the healthcare system in other areas.

“African-American and Latino mothers saw higher mortality rates,” she said. “A disproportionate number of minority families lacked access to health insurance and care. Communities of color have been impacted by COVID-19 at an alarming rate. We need to understand how and why these disparities are happening, and what we can do to mitigate the harm this pandemic has caused.”

A poll released by Stockton University in March revealed that a majority of racial and ethnic minorities and lower-income residents in New Jersey want a COVID-19 vaccine, but report getting vaccinated at half the rates of white and more affluent residents in the state.

The poll also found that Black and Hispanic respondents tested positive for COVID-19 at higher rates than whites, Asians and non-Hispanics.

“These findings reflect inequity in how the virus and the vaccination process are affecting people of color and lower-income populations in New Jersey,” said John Froonjian, director of the Hughes Center. “Black, Hispanic and lower-income residents are just as worried about COVID and are as eager to be vaccinated as the rest of the population.”