The holidays are here and things are finally back to normal! All the social distancing and masking has allowed families to finally come together this holiday season. And with Governor Kathy Hochul’s announcement that New York State has achieved a 91.7% COVID-19 vaccination rate, people take comfort in knowing that herd immunity offers protection. But what does 90% actually mean?
As the state continues to immunize its population, it’s important to watch where these vaccinations take place. Are they distributed evenly throughout the state or located in specific areas? New York City comprises over 42.5% of the total population of New York State, an average of around 8.2 million people. It’s critical that we understand that while 91.7% of the state is vaccinated, the majority of those people live in New York City, which makes up only 0.005% of New York State’s land mass. So why should this matter? 91.7% is still a high vaccination rate, right?
Misinterpreting this statistic can be misleading and dangerous in an age when vigilance is still the order of the day. The data instills a false sense of security in New Yorkers when positivity rates remain at an all time high. With this knowledge, people may feel more free to walk around without a mask or to forgo vaccination altogether since the rest of the population provides herd immunity. But herd immunity doesn’t work if you don’t live with the herd.
Western New York, comprising the counties of Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany, accounts for about 14.5% of the population of New York State, or about 2.8 million people. The average vaccination rate for these counties ranges from 42 to 61%. But NYC has a vaccination rate of between 70 and 89 percent, a figure closer to the governor’s statement. This calculation shows how biased Hochul’s statement is when you think about the communities in which we actually live. 42-61% is a long way from collective immunity, and protection from NYC is too far to effectively protect West New Yorkers.
So why is this important? With new variants of the COVID-19 virus continuing to emerge and the holidays arrive, people are being exposed to the virus in more ways than ever before. School and work are no longer far apart and with the fresh snow falling people are becoming more comfortable indoors. The fear and precautions of 2020 are just a memory. But, unlike the masks that fall from our hands, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in WNY continues to rise.
As of the week of December 13, there were 785,655 deaths from COVID-19 statewide compared to the 290,000 deaths from COVID-19 recorded in December 2020. This is more than double the death rate observed during what was considered the peak of the pandemic. . Additionally, the daily positivity rate in WNY continues to be around 11%, compared to NYC, where the daily positivity rate is 2%. Immunization rates have also slowed considerably, and with the governor’s recent statement, those numbers are not expected to increase very quickly.
It’s a slow move and what New Yorkers need to remember, especially those in western New York City, is that this pandemic is not over yet. While the situation has improved in some respects, the need for vigilance is of the utmost importance. Wear your mask and get vaccinated. Collective immunity is possible. You just need to make sure you know where the nearest herd is. Western New York is in dire need of vaccines, so let’s prepare for this holiday season by giving our loved ones the greatest gift of all, the gift of protection and good health!
Amanda Vititow is an intern at the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Fairness and Mission at Niagara University.