Hudson Valley confronts lagging COVID vaccination rates across ZIP codes

Overall in Westchester, 29 zip codes have vaccination rates above 50% while 23 zip codes are under 40%. Among the lowest are areas in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers, White Plains and Peekskill.

David Propper Nancy Cutler
Rockland/Westchester Journal News
  • Communities that have some of the highest vaccination rates include Armonk, Larchmont and Chappaqua
  • None of the five Yonkers zip codes have hit 40% yet, as of April 29.

Following an unsettling trend across nation, Westchester ZIP codes hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic are among the least vaccinated, according to county data.

Stark disparities in vaccination rates across Westchester have become evident with some ZIP codes exceeding 50% while other communities have struggled to hit 30% inoculation.

Perhaps no place serves as more of a microcosm of that unevenness than New Rochelle, one of the nation's first COVID-19 hot spots. 

Two of the three city ZIP codes, 10801 and 10805, which make up the central and south sections of New Rochelle and are predominantly Black and Hispanic, each have rates of about 29%, as of April 29 for anyone ages 18 and older. 

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Those two ZIP codes shouldered the brunt of the pandemic over the last year with the state designating all of the 10801 ZIP code, where the downtown is, and part of the 10805 ZIP code in a COVID color zone because of soaring caseloads.

Meanwhile, in the north end of New Rochelle, the 10804 ZIP code, the vaccination rate is about double at 59%. That part of the city is mostly white with higher incomes.

Mayor Noam Bramson said the lack of access to technology and health care in general, language barriers and past medical abuses against people of color have led to the vaccine rate gap. 

"The disparities are upsetting and concerning but not necessarily surprising," Bramson said. "They reflect patterns that are evident of the region and throughout the country."

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson remembers the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic as being surreal and unsettling, especially with New Rochelle finding itself at the center of an international story. Bramson, photographed Feb. 24, 2021, believes that it's unlikely that New Rochelle will be remembered primarily as an early epicenter of the coronavirus, as the pandemic spread nationwide within a matter of weeks.

While the data is concrete, the explanation behind the contrast in New Rochelle and the rest of the county is not as clear.

Overall in Westchester:

  • 30 ZIP codes have vaccination rates above 50%
  • 23 ZIP codes are under 40%
  • 17 ZIP codes are in the median range of 40%.

Among the lowest in the county are areas of Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers, White Plains and Peekskill. Among the highest are Armonk, Chappaqua, Larchmont and Ardsley.

The New Rochelle Public Library parking lot at left Oct. 10, 2019. The zip code where it is located has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Westchester.

Port Chester, which faced the most state-imposed restrictions last year due to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, is at a 38% rate.

Around the state a similar story

The pattern is seen in other New York counties.

For example, in Rockland, the first-dose vaccination rate hit 42% countywide on Monday. But diverse and economically challenged areas such as Spring Valley, Monsey and Haverstraw have rates well below that. For example, Monsey's 10952 just has a 10% first-dose vaccination rate; Spring Valley's 10977 is at 15.7% and Haverstraw's 10927 is at 30.4%.

Other counties in the region, like Putnam and Ulster, are slightly above 50% of the population receiving at least one dose, while Orange, Sullivan and Dutchess counties are all below 50% inoculation, according to state data. 

Those rates stand as supply outpaces demand.  

"What we are in is the stage where people are interested but they might not want to jump through a lot of hoops combined with the next stage, which is people are a little bit more concerned, have questions, have fears that are also not going to jump through a lot of hoops," said Dr. Calie Santana, who is in charge of analytics and informatics at Westmed Medical Group.

Rockland Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said that some people work odd hours or have on-call jobs that make it hard to plan a traditional appointment. So the health department and its partners are looking at vaccination clinics during off hours.

"We try to be very accommodating," Ruppert said. "People have busy lives."

Similar to New Rochelle, Yonkers is struggling to vaccinate people who live in the ZIP codes most devastated by the virus. The availability is far reaching, but the desire to get the shot is running out, Mayor Mike Spano said. The three ZIP codes, 10701, 10703 and 10705 were all in the COVID yellow zone for high rates last year; presently they have the lowest vaccination rates in the city.  

The 10705 ZIP code only has 25% of people inoculated, according to the county. None of the five Yonkers ZIP codes have hit 40% yet, as of April 29. 

Adding to the frustration, the city has its own vaccination site located at the Yonkers Armory, which is in the heart of the community officials are working to reach, Spano said. 

The National Guard Armory on North Broadway in Yonkers, is pictured Feb. 26, 2021. This will be a state run COVID-19 vaccination site.

Distrust, politics, age all cited

"There's still a lot distrust for this vaccine amongst the minority community," Spano said. "It's not about availability, it's there. It's not about accessibility, it's there. We have a facility and people still aren't coming."

Westchester County Executive George Latimer was quick to point out that the countywide vaccination rate is good and better compared to other parts of the region. About 53% of the county's population has received one dose, which is better than the state average of 46.6%. 

Westchester COVID cases have dropped considerably. On Sunday and Monday, new daily cases were 62 and 91, respectively. The last time daily cases were below 100 back-to-back days was mid-October. 

But Latimer conceded there are pockets lagging behind. ZIP codes with residents who are Black and Hispanic or hold conservative political views have fallen behind, Latimer believes. He also noted it's been difficult to get young adults between the ages of 16 to 25 vaccinated, though that group of people is scattered across the county.

The Purchase 10577 ZIP code, which has Purchase College and Manhattanville College, is at 21.1%, though eligibility for anyone 16 and older only opened up recently. 

"Now the question is how do you address the pockets because the overall strategy has been going well," Latimer said, noting the county has put out PSAs and fliers in English and Spanish.

Yorktown Supervisor Matthew Slater said political ideology might have a slight impact on vaccination rates in town, but thinks most vaccine recipients have been even across the political spectrum. 

He noticed a significant drop in demand once the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused following a small handful of people that developed blood clots after getting the shot. Johnson & Johnson was put back into circulation after it was determined by the Centers for Control Disease and Food and Drug Administration the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the minimal risk. 

Rockland's Ruppert said she saw the same kind of dips when the J&J vaccine was temporarily shelved, even for appointments of the other vaccines.

Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert talks about the first delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Department of Health in Pomona Jan. 5, 2021.

Yorktown's last two pop-ups offered about 350 shots combined and under 100 people showed up, Slater said. Two ZIP codes, Jefferson Valley and Shrub Oak, are around 40% vaccinated, according to the county. Another ZIP code, Yorktown Heights, is closer to 50%. 

"For people who were maybe reluctant to begin with, I think the J&J pause really had a significant impact on the confidence of people in receiving the vaccine," Slater said. 

This week's release of vaccination allocations by the state show that J&J shots are coming back to the Mid Hudson region. Rockland and Putnam health departments can expect 100 doses each of the one-shot vaccine, while pharmacies and doctors offices around the region are expecting small supplies. 

Persuasive but not righteous 

Convenience and trust are also keys to closing the vaccine rate gap, say some political leaders.

Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard said placing a permanent vaccine site in her city, which is mostly Black, would raise the rates of the 10550 and 10553 ZIP codes that are at 21% and 22%, respectively. The other Mount Vernon ZIP code, 10552, has a 36.7% vaccination rate

Residents are waiting for "trusted partners who have credibility with the community and people of color," Patterson-Howard said. 

When there are pop-ups clinics at Grace Baptist Church and Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center, all of the doses are administered the same day, she said. 

"And I believe that once those sites become more permanent and not just pop-ups, you will see the vaccination rates increase," Patterson-Howard said, adding "But then, still, there are going to be people who wait, they're still distrustful and they're going to wait."

Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi said the vaccine needs to be easier to obtain in northern Westchester. Residents were not willing to drive up to 45 minutes when the Westchester County Center in White Plains became a mass vaccination site, she said. 

Still, when a Croton-based pharmacy offered to host a vaccine clinic in town that would provide 100 shots, only 20 people signed up, Puglisi said. The clinic was scrapped because of the low number. Buchanan, Verplank and Montrose ZIP codes all have vaccination rates under 40%, according to the county. Cortlandt Manor's rate is 43.1%. 

Santana, the Westmed doctor, said officials need to get away from mass vaccination sites and rely more on pharmacies and medical practices to lead the effort. She said some of her patients want to talk with her about their concerns before they decide whether they will accept the vaccine. 

#VaxUpWestchester volunteer Rachel Blitzer Brodhead outside of C-Town in Tarrytown to share information with passersby about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and offer direct assistance connecting them with a vaccine provider.

"We want to be that point of connection between our patients and the vaccine," said Santana, who serves many people from White Plains and Port Chester. 

In Rockland, Ruppert said that county is also working on partnering with doctors offices, including pediatricians, that may not have the special deep-freeze storage capacity certain vaccines need. People trust their medical providers, she said, so offering the shots at the doctor's office may increase comfort with the vaccine.

A Greenburgh-based group working to break down vaccine hesitancy called #VaxUpWestchester has been reaching out to residents wary of the vaccine in mostly lower Westchester, said Kenny Herzog, who is involved in the effort. 

The group wants to be persuasive without coming across as confrontational or righteous, said Herzog, a Sleepy Hollow resident.  

"There's all these ranges of concern and it's about figuring out how do we appeal to anyone who has these concerns in the language they speak, in a way that's relatable to them, in a way that makes a compelling emotional appeal, appeal to health and well-being of their community and families," Herzog said. "How do we convince them that the virus is still an issue and it's an issue in their community." 

David Propper covers lower Westchester County. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter: dg_props