TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Over the last few weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has begun focusing on specific zip codes with low vaccination rates for more advertising, outreach and awareness, with the largest gesture coming on July 26, when he announced plans to allocate $15 million to community groups in impacted areas with low vaccination rates in hopes of boosting the number of shots in arms.

While there are certain zip codes in Tompkins County that lag far behind the county’s overall rate, none of them have been named specifically by the state as targets for a Department of Health-led push.

Cuomo called out the 117 zip codes in the state with both low vaccination rates and higher than average infection rates last week, with funding aimed at community groups that seemingly deal mostly with communities of color and lower income populations.

The vast majority of the zip codes are in New York City or on Long Island, though there were 25 elsewhere in the state. Again, none were listed in Tompkins County and only one was in the Southern Tier, a zip code listed in Chenango County.

State data shows that certain areas of Tompkins County are indeed behind both the county’s overall rate (69.2 percent of total population have received first shot) and the state (63.4 percent). Of the 13 zip codes listed by New York State, five of them have over 99 percent vaccination rate (though presumably these zip codes have fairly small populations). It could also be the case that all of Tompkins County was passed over since the infection rate is significantly worse elsewhere in the state.

The full data table for Tompkins County is shown below, as of August 3:

Obviously, some of the above-listed zip codes have far higher populations than others—14850 is the heart of Ithaca, while 13073 in Groton is far less populous and additionally far less dense.

These numbers do illustrate that, clearly, vaccination uptake has primarily been lower in rural communities than in the City of Ithaca. Some of that blame can be placed on access, though there have been plenty of vaccination clinics provided by the Tompkins County Health Department in many of those communities. Jason Liefer, Town Supervisor of Dryden, was surprised by the statistics showing the Dryden zip code as lowest in the county—though he stated that the 13053 zip code is only the Village of Dryden, while other parts of the Town of Dryden rest in other zip codes.

“If you look at the way the vaccine got politicized, there could be some of that going on,” Liefer said. “If you dig in and found out voting patterns, that might be some of it.”

Liefer said that organizations around Dryden, specifically the Southworth Library, have been initiating programs aimed at educating people on the COVID-19 vaccines and what the scientific community has found about them. The hope is to dispel any misinformation that may have arisen about the formulation of the vaccine, that receiving the vaccine costs any money (it is free), and more. Liefer said the Town of Dryden would be putting its efforts behind promoting events like those at Southworth Library.

“It’s a mix of unfortunate events, I don’t know of any massive anti-vax sentiment in Dryden,” Liefer said, also noting that pop-up clinics don’t provide the same type of access as a permanent location. Nearby, Dryden residents can stop into the Walgreens in the Village to receive the shot. “It’s a confluence of events. I think more people are going to get it once they understand this variant factor is no joke. The point of the vaccine isn’t that it’s a shield, it’s that if you get exposed you won’t end up in the hospital.”

Matt Butler

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