Long Island closed in on 70% of its population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on Friday, and while medical experts say that is good news, they caution the region still needs a higher rate to shut down the virus.
That's because, in contrast to when the pandemic started in early 2020, the highly contagious delta variant is circulating — meaning a greater percentage of the population still needs to be vaccinated, the experts said.
The full vaccination figure on Long Island was 69.92%, according to data released by the state on Friday.
"I’m very, very pleased to hear that news, but it just doesn’t stop there," said Dr. Alan M. Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Flower Hill.
"Seventy percent, unfortunately, with the advent of the delta variant, is still not quite where we need to be," he said. "We probably need to be closer to 80 to 90 percent if you are talking about complete herd immunity and full protection."
Dr. David Battinelli, vice president and chief medical officer at Northwell Health, agreed the 70% was a milestone, but Long Island needs an even higher percentage inoculated.
"It’s good progress, but it certainly doesn’t mean herd immunity," he said. "I think most people believe that true herd immunity is not til 90-plus percent."
He noted that 70% inoculated still means 30% are unvaccinated and ripe to get the infection and spread it to others.
Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said, "There’s a lot of people who are unvaccinated who are in the hospital. We don’t want that.
"The more people that are vaccinated, the better, for both them and for everybody else," he added.
COVID-19 cases had been dipping after a summer surge. But the numbers have started ticking up again, as the holiday season kicked off with Halloween and will last into next year with the Super Bowl.
The numbers climbed again in figures released Friday by the state. The seven-day average for positivity in testing rose to 2.33% on Thursday, up from 2.22% on Wednesday.
The number of new daily cases was 243 in Nassau County and 360 in Suffolk County. New York City had 893 new cases. Across the state, 32 people died on Thursday of causes linked to the virus, including one in Suffolk.
Medical experts noted that at this time last year, a second surge started and lasted through late January.
"I don’t want to see another large surge into the hospital at any time, but I do expect we will continue to see cases even through the early part of next year for sure, even with 70%" vaccinated, Bulbin said.
One hopeful sign is that children ages 5 to 11 are eligible for the shots, Battinelli said.
"Let’s keep moving forward with getting as many of the kids vaccinated as possible," he said. "This has been an extraordinarily safe vaccine."
He and Bulbin also recommended that people continue to wear masks in crowded indoors areas such as stores to keep transmission of the disease down.
Meanwhile, all units of the FDNY are back to full operation, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday, days after his administration accused hundreds of firefighters of staging a sickout to protest the vaccine mandate. The vaccination rate among firefighters is 80%; in December 2020, a poll showed that 55% said they wouldn't get the vaccine if offered.
"All of our 350 fire department units are operational, working. We've had great response times in addressing different challenges. It's really striking. And I want to tell you, if you want evidence that mandates work — since the mandate was announced — it was just on Oct. 20 — since then, well over 26,000 city workers have been vaccinated," de Blasio told WNYC's Brian Lehrer on the mayor's weekly radio appearance.
With Matthew Chayes
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