If you don't want to get sick, or end up...

If you don't want to get sick, or end up in the hospital, or worse, getting vaccinated is your best bet. Credit: Randee Daddona

One year ago, many New Yorkers were searching for the Holy Grail, trying to secure an elusive vaccination. Many of us were waiting to even be eligible to get an appointment for the COVID-19 shot.

The anxiety was high, the desire strong.

Now, the desperation and the vaccine envy have vanished. Anyone who wants the COVID vaccination has gotten it. Some have gotten the shot only because jobs or schools required it. Others have flat-out refused the vaccine.

But as a new analysis Newsday presented this week clearly showed, those decisions have consequences. Communities across Long Island that sported lower vaccination rates also had higher numbers of hospitalizations. Those living in neighborhoods with the lowest vaccination rates were 39.4% more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 from mid-December through the end of February. Also at risk of hospitalization: communities with majority minority populations, yet another unfortunate illustration of the intractable health care disparities still prevalent across the Island, especially as other underlying illnesses might play a role.

So what, you say. Omicron’s over, the pandemic is waning, life is getting back to normal. Who cares about a neighborhood’s vaccination rate? We’re not even required to wear masks or show proof of vaccination in many places anymore. Why does it matter?

It matters because COVID-19 isn’t disappearing anytime soon. It matters because every day, hundreds of New Yorkers still are testing positive. It matters because many of our neighbors are immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable. It matters because a new strain easily could emerge, one that is more worrisome, one that could sweep through the unvaccinated, deeply impacting the Island’s most vulnerable areas. Worth watching even now is an omicron subvariant that’s leading cases to rise in Europe.

So, understanding the data, knowing where Long Island’s less-vaccinated pockets are, and trying to close those remaining gaps remain important as we prepare for whatever might come next. Even if COVID remains at bay for a while, it’s the vaccine that has brought us to that point.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that the immunity we received, at least in terms of transmission, has waned somewhat, especially against resistant strains. The booster shot helped, but it seems likely at some point we’ll need a fourth shot, or perhaps an annual COVID shot, similar to the flu. That’s not a bad thing. Pfizer already is reportedly seeking emergency authorization for a fourth shot for those 65 and older. But it may be harder to encourage some Long Islanders, who once felt that getting the shot was like hitting a jackpot but now are less enthused.

There are those who sadly never will be convinced, who never will get the COVID-19 vaccine. There are those who will, for reasons beyond understanding, try to encourage others not to get the vaccine. There are those who will read this and actually celebrate the communities where vaccination rates are low, no matter the consequences.

This column isn’t for them. It’s for the thousands of people who aren’t anti-vaccine but who may still be scared, or uncertain, or busy, or just waiting until the right time.

The data is clear. If you don’t want to get sick, or end up in the hospital, or worse, getting vaccinated is your best bet. Keeping up with the shots as the virus evolves and our ways of beating it evolve will be critical. If we follow the science, the vaccine will continue to protect us. If only we let it.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall’s opinions are her own.

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