County notes disparity on vaccination rates, based on race and ruralness

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said of vaccination, “We have tried to do this with an equity lens, looking at our high-risk ZIP codes.”

ALBANY COUNTY — County leaders made a call to action on Monday for places with the lowest vaccination rates — Berne and East Berne, Westerlo, Ravena, South Bethlehem, and some Albany neighborhoods.
All but the Albany neighborhoods are rural.

The New York Times recently looked at data for nearly every county in the United States and found “both willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates to date were lower, on average, in counties where a majority of residents voted to re-elect former President Donald J. Trump in 2020. The phenomenon has left some places with a shortage of supply and others with a glut.”

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy presented data from a handful of county ZIP codes to illustrate those places with the highest and lowest rates of vaccination against COVID-19.

“Many of the ZIP codes doing the worst are also the highest percentage of non-white residents,” said McCoy.

He made his point by listing the two ZIP codes, both wealthy areas, with the highest rates:

— Slingerlands (12159) where 69 percent have gotten at least a first dose and where 16.3 percent of the population is non-white; and

— Loudonville (12211) where 66.5 percent have received a first dose and where 16.3 percent of the population is non-white.

He contrasted this with two ZIP codes, in poorer areas of Albany, where rates are the lowest:

— Albany’s West Hill (12206) where just 27 percent have gotten a first dose and where 67 percent of the population is non-white; and

— Albany’s South End (12202) where 31 percent have gotten a first dose and where 72 percent of the population is non-white.

His list also included Coeymans Hollow (12046), a rural area, with the very lowest rate — 19.1 percent, of first-dose vaccination where only 1.45 percent of the population is non-white.

Berne (12023) has 36 percent of its residents with one shot and has a non-white population of 2.2 percent.

“We still need to get buy-in from the community,” said McCoy. “So I’m pleading with everyone …. We need your help.”

Instead of putting its effort into mass clinics, where sign-up has plummeted, McCoy said, the county is going to work with community partners to reach people where they are.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said of vaccination, “We have tried to do this with an equity lens, looking at our high-risk ZIP codes.”

Now that supply of the vaccine has outstripped demand, she said, the county would “double down” with additional strategies, focusing on education and having community health workers answer questions.

“We know there are still people sitting on the fence with questions and concerns,” she said.She explained how variants of viruses emerge and said, “As COVID evolves and changes … the more likely it could mutate …. If we can vaccinate up to 70 percent of the population, we can stop the spread … stoop the chances for mutation.”

As of Monday night, according to the state’s vaccine tracker, 51.9 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one shot. McCoy announced on Monday morning that 37.8 percent had been fully vaccinated.

Statewide, 44.3 percent of New Yorkers have had at least one dose of vaccine while 31.4 percent have received an entire series.

Whalen urged residents who have been vaccinated to “share with those that you know that may have questions or concerns your reason for vaccinating.”

Vaccine in Albany County will be used in PODs, or points of dispensing, in high-needs areas and be given to primary-care offices where residents may feel comfortable getting vaccinated, she said.


J&J shots resume

On Monday, Whalen noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had stopped the pause on administering Johson & Johnson vaccine. 

“After very careful analysis, it was determined that the benefit by far outweighs the risk of this vaccine,” she said.

The government analysis showed that 15 women, between the ages of 18 and 49, who had received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, out of 8 million vaccine recipients in the United States, had developed a rare kind of blood clot.

On Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo had issued a statement, saying, “World-renowned public health experts from the federal government and our own independent state task force have reviewed the data and reaffirmed that the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can resume. The state of New York will resume administration of this vaccine at all of our state-run sites effective immediately.”

At the same time, the state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, issued a statement, saying, “The data has shown the vaccine’s known benefits far outweigh the potential and extremely rare risks, but we urge anyone with questions about the COVID-19 vaccines to speak with their healthcare provider.”

Whalen said on Monday that the county has a lot of Johnson & Johnson doses and “will partner with interested parties to get that out.”

She went on, “We also have a lot of Pfizer and a fair amount of Moderna.” She stressed again that the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech is the only one that 16- and 17-year-olds can use.

McCoy noted that 52 percent of the United States population has been vaccinated and surveys show that 62 percent either have been vaccinated or plan to be vaccinated while 17 percent are waiting and undecided.

He also said, “On the national level, 10 percent of people aren’t going back for their second dose, which is alarming because they’re afraid of the side effects.”

Johnson & Johnson requires just one shot while Pfizer and Monderna require two shots several weeks apart.

McCoy said the county will target college students with its Johnson & Johnson doses.


Newest numbers

McCoy reported 44 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday morning, bringing the county’s tally to 23,658.

Of the new cases, 27 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, 12 did not have clear sources of infection identified, four were health-care workers or residents of congregate living settings, and one had traveled out of state.

The five-day average for new daily positives increased from 52.8 to 53.2. There are now 476 active cases in the county, down from 483 on Sunday.

Albany County residents under quarantine increased to 1,172 from 1,159. So far, 75,915 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 23,182 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 47 recoveries since Sunday.

There were five new hospitalizations overnight and there are now 24 county residents hospitalized from the virus – up four from yesterday. There remain five patients in intensive-care units.

McCoy said the number of residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is the highest since March 7.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 374.

The county’s infection rate, as of Sunday, as a seven-day rolling average, according to the state’s dashboard, was the same as the state’s infection rate: 2.1 percent.

More Regional News

  • “We tend to socially distance as a norm,” nurse practitioner Jill Martin said of Hilltown residents. “Even our houses are situated far apart.” And many Hilltowners work independently — say, as farmers — and don’t regularly go to crowded venues like theaters or restaurants, she noted. “It gives a false sense of security that we don’t have the virus,” Martin said.

  • While Albany County hit the halfway mark — 50 percent — on Wednesday of residents having received at least one shot, there were also concerns about more deaths.

  • As vaccination rates are falling off nationwide, incentives are being offered — like discounts and specials at Crossgates Mall. An incentive for states is a new federal policy to reallocate doses from states not using their weekly allotments.

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