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Many shots are going into arms across Long Island, but some neighborhoods are rolling up their sleeves more than others.
Islandwide, more than 1.2 million residents — or 52.4% of the eligible population — have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But our analysis and map of ZIP code data from Nassau and Suffolk counties show enormous disparities in the percentage of eligible residents who've received at least one dose. Some communities have percentages above 70%, already approaching herd immunity, when enough people are vaccinated that the virus can no longer easily spread. Other places remain stuck around 30%, meaning they still face considerable risk of spread.
So the challenge shifts. Instead of bringing people eager for a shot to mass vaccination sites, we must start bringing the shots to people where they live, particularly in places with lower vaccination rates.
Optimism and concern
Day after day, Long Island is seeing normalcy return. Some of our favorite spots that stayed closed through last spring and summer are open or preparing to open. Just Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that indoor dining, barber shops and other salons will expand to 75% capacity as of May 7.
The only reason that's possible is because more of us are getting the vaccine.
But we're not there yet. The pace of vaccination has slowed, and many who remain unvaccinated still have concerns, are indifferent, or have difficulty accessing a location. Long Island's high numbers, which at first glance seem to show real progress, are, in some ways, masking the region's trouble spots.
Range of rates
Comparing the number of vaccinated people in each ZIP code to the number of residents eligible for the vaccine shows clearly how far we've come — and how far we have to go.
There are a dozen or so communities out East where the vaccine data actually surpass Census-provided eligible population totals, probably because people moved to those areas during the pandemic. Then there are concentrations of highly vaccinated areas in western Nassau and the North Shore. In neighborhoods from Roslyn and Plainview to Woodbury and Atlantic Beach, the percentage of eligible residents with at least one shot exceeds 75%. That bodes well for everyone in those communities — from residents to those who work there.
But in other parts of Nassau and farther east, rates drop significantly. In Mastic, Mastic Beach, Shirley, and Copiague, among others, the vaccination rate still hovers around 30%. Our analysis also shows the pace of getting shots has slowed in recent weeks. Whether that's due to lingering concerns among those skeptical of government research, or those who believe vaccine refusal is a stance for individual liberty, or other factors, we've got to move that needle.
THE NEXT STEP
So, the harder work must begin. Community leaders, business owners and elected officials must determine where mobile vans and pop-up sites would reach the most people. They can combine convenience with education, so questions can be answered.
It's time to go to the malls, hair salons, or grocery stores with shots in tow. Perhaps restaurants or entertainment venues could offer promotions to those who get the shot. Suffolk is starting to vaccinate teenagers at their high schools, a smart move as our younger residents might be among our best ambassadors.
Shooting for summer
The initial excitement over being eligible for a shot and finding an appointment has waned. But the importance of that has not. A new energy must take hold, especially in communities where rates are lower. If we apply the same effort to getting neighbors vaccinated as we do to cheering local sports or supporting our schools, then spots that hit 30% vaccinated could soon become 70%. At that rate, before the summer officially arrives, all of Long Island could be near herd immunity and all the benefits that will bring.