NYC targets Far Rockaway, other areas with low COVID-19 vaccination rates

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NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- As the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread and New York City prepares to impose a vaccine mandate for most indoor activities and events, officials are targeting areas of the city with the highest hesitancy.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. was joined by mayoral hopeful Eric Adams and other community and health leaders Thursday to address the vaccination rate in Far Rockaway, which lags significantly behind the rest of Queens.

"We are at a pivotal moment in this fight," Richards said. "We do not want to go back to where we were last year. Remember, Far Rockaway shut down. Remember, bodies upon bodies at our hospital."

The event at the Beach 39th Street Vaccine Hub aimed to strongly encourage Far Rockaway residents to get inoculated and trust the science behind the vaccines.

"We can't be selfish," Adams said. "At the moment, it's about our families, our friends, those frontline workers, we just really need to get the message out about vaccinations."

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Queens was the first county in the state to have 1 million residents vaccinated back in April, and in two dozen ZIP codes across Queens, more than 70% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, August 3.

In total, 66% of Queens residents, just over than 1.5 million people, have received at least one vaccine dose, by far the second-highest total of the five boroughs and six percentage points higher than the city average.

Vaccination rates by ZIP code:

However, vaccination rates in historically underserved communities across Southeast Queens and the Rockaway Peninsula have lagged.

In nine ZIP codes across those sections of the borough, less than 50% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Tuesday, ZIP Code 11691, made up of Far Rockaway and Edgemere, has the lowest vaccination rate of any ZIP code in New York City with just 38.62% of eligible residents having received at least one vaccine dose.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Far Rockaway harder than most neighborhoods. According to city data, the virus has been either the confirmed or probable cause of death of 535 Far Rockaway and Edgemere residents as of Tuesday, the second-most of any ZIP code in the borough, while a total of 8,593 residents living in ZIP code 11691 have tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.

"You are putting peoples lives at risk by not getting the vaccine," Richards said. "We don't want to hear, 'Oh, I had it already, so therefore, you know, I have the antibodies, I'm fine.' No. Get the vaccine."

The push comes as New York City efforts to return to some sense of normalcy, after Wednesday's opening night on the Great White Way as Broadway celebrated the return of audiences as the play "Pass Over" began previews.

All of those over age 16 in attendance had to be fully vaccinated, and it was a packed -- and fully masked -- house inside the August Wilson Theatre as the curtain rose.

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The de Blasio administration is finalizing an executive order to require vaccines for any indoor entertainment venue, restaurants, and gyms. Children will be exempt from the rule.

"There will be a period to educate, prepare our businesses, work with them really constructively, get them ready," he said. "Then the week of September 13, we start to follow up with inspections and if necessary enforcement."

The news comes after it was announced that the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center would be canceled due to the spread of the delta variant.

The CDC is warning that cases nationwide could triple by September, but with New York's relatively high vaccination numbers, public health experts don't expect another tsunami of suffering.

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