Upstate NY vax rates stalled as mandates pushed NYC higher



The Empire State’s vaccination campaign stalled during the summer and fall months in upstate communities that have seen a massive November surge in coronavirus cases, a Post analysis shows.

The upstate inoculation push slowdown came as the coronavirus became far more contagious thanks to the Delta variant and as officials lifted virtually all restrictions on indoor activities.

And unlike New York City, upstate communities did not introduce passport requirements or vaccine mandates.

The actions state officials took have come under renewed scrutiny as test positivity rates in western New York hit 10 percent, another new variant — Omnicron — now looms and upstate hospitals are once again set to make room for COVID patients by suspending surgeries for non-emergency ailments.

Upstate, just 66.9 percent of residents of all ages have gotten their first shot and only 60.7 percent are completely inoculated, state Health Department data examined by The Post shows.

That’s just a 9.3 percent increase in the number of people fully vaccinated since June — which is less than half the 18.8 percent surge seen in New York City over the same time period.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul addresses the rising cases in the state and new variant Omicron.
New York State Governor Kathy Hochul addresses the rising cases in the state and new variant Omicron.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutters

“It is a vindication of the tough stance towards mandates, they got the job done,” said Professor Arthur Caplan, who runs the medical ethics department at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

He said the lower vaccination rates upstate amounted to a “missed opportunity.”

“We could have done it easier, cheaper and with a more psychological punch if the state had implemented the city’s rules,” he added. “I think we’re in a tougher position facing these variants because we have more unvaccinated people than we should.”

Upstate and the Big Apple started from roughly the same spot in June, the Post’s analysis found.

Counties upstate — a broad swath of geography that extends from the Westchester County lines all the way to the Canadian border — reported having fully vaccinated 51.4 percent of their residents, compared to New York City’s 50.2 percent.

Medical workers prepares COVID-19 vaccine.
Getty Images / Michael M. Santiago

By November, the contrast could not be sharper.

Now, 69.0 percent of Gothamites of all ages were completely vaccinated, according to the state data published Friday. And the number that’s set to grow even higher as another 8.6 percent of city residents are still awaiting their second dose, state figures show.

The rate for adults in the Big Apple is even higher: 88.5 percent have at least one dose and 81.2 percent are completely vaccinated, according to the city Health Department.

“It’s a really powerful illustration of the impact of the mandates and the passports, which in addition to protecting hundreds of thousands of workers, have not disrupted operations,” said Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan), who has overseen the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as the chair of the City Council’s Health Committee. “The passports make venues safer and they undoubtedly incentivize people to get off the fence and get their jab.”  

“I am incredibly grateful we got so many people protected ahead of the arrival of Omicron, which would be an immeasurably worse threat to us if our vaccination rates looked like upstate,” added Levine, who is soon to become the Manhattan Borough President.

Protestor holds sign at the Worldwide Walkout in protest of vaccination mandates in New York City.
Protester holds sign at the Worldwide Walkout in protest of vaccination mandates in New York City.
Rainmaker Photo/MediaPunch

Gov. Kathy Hochul implicitly pointed to the vast disparities in vaccination between upstate and downstate when she highlighted the growing shortage of hospital beds in communities beyond New York City and its suburbs.

“Hospitalizations are up — get this number — 150 percent upstate versus downstate,” she said.

“Not that I’m trying to create an upstate downstate divide in our state. I don’t believe in that,” she added, poking fun at New York’s longstanding regional divide. “But just looking at the numbers, these are with the numbers we’re seeing and they’re very troubling.”

The coming crush forced Hochul to issue a new emergency order that allows hospitals to once again suspend and reschedule non-emergency procedures beginning Dec. 3 if they have fewer than 10 percent of their beds available — a threshold that 37 upstate hospitals have already hit.

One top state lawmaker who reviewed The Post’s findings said it was time for the Hochul administration to consider taking the city’s vaccine policies statewide.

“We should take every single opportunity and every single action that we can to make sure we increase the number of people vaccinated, especially at a time when there’s a new variant,” said state Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-The Bronx), who chairs the upper chamber’s public health committee.

A sign at a museum requires visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Unlike New York City, upstate did not pass vaccine mandates.
Getty Images / Spencer Platt

“These are measures that are absolutely necessary to protect public health,” he added. “We are not done with this.”

Currently, state employees must provide a weekly coronavirus test if they will not get inoculated.

It’s a looser policy than the vaccine mandate imposed on city employees, which allows for those with medical accommodation or religious objections to opt out.

State officials used their liquor licensing powers throughout 2020 to require restaurants and bars to implement social distancing policies and ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s curfew.

This time around, state officials have opted not to have the Liquor Authority require vaccine passports to eat or drink indoors, leaving that decision to individual businesses. In the five boroughs, such checks are required by an order from the Health Department.

“From the day she was sworn in, Governor Hochul has taken aggressive action to combat the spread of COVID-19,” said Press Secretary Hazel Crampton-Hays in a lengthy statement.

Those steps include “holding strong against intense opposition and multiple lawsuits in implementing a nation-leading health care worker mandate”, “deploying vaccine pop-up sites”, “adding incentives for the vaccine hesitant” and “staying in constant communication with local partners.”


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