Election 2020 Politics

Why vaccine distribution may not overlap with the pandemic’s worst-hit areas

But the city’s data also show that the areas by Central Park have unusually high levels of vaccination. It’s a bit jarring that a wealthy area relatively unaffected by the virus should be so quick to receive protection against it.

Those maps don’t tell the whole story.

If we break out vaccination rates by Zip code and compare them to the number of cases per 100,000 people, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation. And in fact, a quick look at the numbers show that there isn’t.

You’ll notice that we’ve highlighted two Zip codes. Those are 11004 and 11697, areas in Queens and Brooklyn. They’re the two most vaccinated parts of the city — for a good reason, which we’ll get to.

If we do the same comparison between deaths per population and vaccination, the same lack of correlation is obvious.

But then we look at another factor: the percentage of the population that is non-White. Here we see a stronger link: The more densely White a Zip code, the more likely it is to have a higher density of full vaccinations. That’s certainly true for Breezy Point (11697), but not really for 11004 in Queens.

It may be the case that this derives to some extent from what’s been shown in polling and anecdotally: Non-White communities have expressed more skepticism about receiving the vaccine.

But it may be related to another factor, too. Note that there’s a slight link between income and vaccination rates, though the two Zip codes with the most vaccinations again stand out.

Why? Remember how the vaccine has been rolled out. The initial focus in New York was on older people, particularly those in long-term-care facilities, and medical professionals. So if we look at educational attainment, we see one of the strongest correlations yet.

Places with a high density of professional school degrees (like an MD) have higher rates of vaccination. Two Zip codes in the Financial District (meaning around Wall Street) have lots of degrees but relatively few vaccinations: They are not medical degrees. The Lenox Hill area on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is home to a large hospital — and lots of doctors.

Meanwhile, our two outlier Zip codes have relatively large hospital and long-term-care populations, which contributes to the high vaccination rates.

As it turns out, the density of professional degrees is a better indicator of vaccine distribution than even age, but we see from Census Bureau data that the two outlier Zip codes are also ones that are older than most of the rest of the city.

The idea is that the city wanted not necessarily to halt the spread of the virus in places where it had spread the most but, instead, to protect those most likely to contract it or who would be most likely to die should they do so. Perhaps that prioritization wasn’t the best way to approach the vaccine rollout (other places prioritized differently) but it does explain the maps above.

Lots of medical professionals who often live in well-to-do areas like Lenox Hill appear to have gotten the vaccine at the outset of distribution. The question will be what the map looks like as the vaccine becomes more widely available. If it is still the case that the wealthiest parts of the city have been more likely to receive it, that’s a different issue.

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