TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Several weeks ago, Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino issued a challenge to the state: if you give us 10,000 vaccines, we’ll distribute them more efficiently and effectively than any state-run vaccination site. The state has not yet answered that challenge, but Tompkins County has bored ahead anyway.

Despite a seemingly slow supply chain and the lack of an in-county state vaccination site, Tompkins County has the highest vaccination rate in New York State, with 45.1 percent of residents having received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Technically speaking, Tompkins County is second in the state in terms of vaccination rate. But the leader, Hamilton County, only has a population of 4,434 people total, per the state, meaning its first vaccination rate—59.1 percent—only equals 2,621 people.

On the other hand, 46,405 Tompkins County residents have been given at least their first shot—including over 75 percent of the county’s senior citizen population.

Though Tompkins County leads the pack of counties with above 4,500 people, several others are fairly close. The eastern part of the state is hovering around mid-30s percent, including downstate in New York City. In the central and western parts of the state, the ranges are wider: 41.1 percent of nearby Ontario County has received at least the first vaccine, compared to just 25 percent of Orleans County. Overall, 33.8 percent of the state’s population has received at least its first dose of the vaccine.

“We’re second in the State when it comes to vaccination progress because we have great partners who are efficient and open to new ideas, and we’ve been able to communicate immediately with a large portion of our community whenever doses are available or eligibility changes, our registry and email list allow us to be in touch with tens of thousands of people at a moment’s notice,” said Public Health Director Frank Kruppa.

This heat map, provided by the state, shows a full picture of the state, though without full percentages. It is available for further perusing and more information here.

About one quarter of the county has received the full COVID-19 vaccination regimen. Kruppa has said consistently that 75 percent of county residents need to be fully vaccinated in order for herd immunity to be reached. Efforts to distribute the vaccine have taken a variety of forms, from the Vaccine Registry, to transportation offerings provided by the county and otherwise, to pop-up clinics aimed at communities of color and marginalized communities.

“We have done roughly half of the doses through local clinics, and half have been administered at State-run sites, pharmacies, and through nursing homes,” Kruppa said. “People in Tompkins County know these are safe and effective vaccines, and are making every effort to get the vaccine when they are able. What we’re asking everyone now is to get information to their friends, families, and neighbors, we’re close to 50 percent, but we have a long way to go, especially when it comes to communities of color and young people.”

With eligibility now having opened up to include all New Yorkers over 16 years of age, the actual effectiveness of those efforts, particularly to connect with communities of color, will be laid bare. There’s been at least some apprehension that people of color, Black people specifically, would be hesitant to take the vaccine due to historical (and justified) mistrust of government medicine, but research has now shown white evangelicals are far more likely to avoid the vaccine than other demographic groups.

Previously, receipt of the vaccine had largely been dependent on either health issues, age or profession, but with those criteria almost all stripped or relaxed, the actual equity of the distribution tactics will be far more clear than it has been to this point locally.

Southside hosted a recent vaccination clinic, partnered with REACH Medical, that included vaccination distribution to 30 community members and will grow to 50 total community members this week.

“On behalf of the Southside Community Center board of directors, we are beyond grateful for our dedicated staff who walked door to door, called neighbors, and participants to sign them up for appointments,” said Southside Community Center Board of Directors President Dr. Nia Nunn. “It was beautiful to see our people getting vaccinated to protect themselves and our community. While many are in different places in their readiness to be vaccinated, we hope that having pop-up clinics, a space for questions and open conversations will encourage people to get the vaccine to help themselves and others stay safe.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com