Since the start of the year, unvaccinated New Yorkers have comprised the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. That’s the takeaway from new data released Wednesday by the New York City Department of Health.

Of the half a million cases recorded between New Year's Day and June 15th, just over 495,000 occurred in people who weren’t fully vaccinated. Compare that against about 5,200 infections in residents with all their shots. Likewise, those without a full course of shots accounted for approximately 8,000 COVID deaths over this period. The fully vaccinated experienced just 94 deaths.

“As the city's doctor, what keeps me up at night is thinking about those New Yorkers who are still unvaccinated,” Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City Health Commissioner, said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “I think about how much suffering COVID-19 caused in our city over the past year and a half. I think about the grief and the trauma and the empty chairs around the dinner table. The good news is so much of that suffering is now avoidable because of the vaccine.”

Overall, New Yorkers who weren’t fully vaccinated comprised 98 percent of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Mayor Bill de Blasio used the moment also to announce a five-pillar strategy for improving the city’s vaccination rates, which have been sliding since the middle of May. Large gaps in coverage remain for older populations and people of color despite recent government incentives.

The vaccine-delivery pillars, many of which have already been in place for weeks, focus on mobile sites, door-to-door canvassers and in-home shots. The latter can be scheduled by calling 877-VAX-4-NYC or filling out this city form.

“We did it first for homebound folks, but now we're doing it for anyone who wants vaccination in their own home,” Mayor de Blasio said. The fourth pillar involves monetary rewards for community- and faith-based groups that refer people for vaccination. The fifth approach will recruit primary care doctors, namely pediatricians, to work on outreach and distribution of vaccines.

The announcement came alongside a data dive conducted by independent researchers at Yale University, with support from the Commonwealth Fund. These epidemiologists estimate that New York City’s vaccination campaign thwarted about 250,000 cases just by reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

The bottom line is that vaccination saves lives.
Dr. Alison Galvani, Yale School of Public Health

To make their assessment, the researchers adapted a model that they had created for the nationwide outbreak and published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Their simulation considers how people typically mingle in society based on past studies and the age-specific risks of COVID-19. They then plugged in how different variants--alpha, gamma and delta--moved through these mock societies and what effect vaccination potentially had upon stopping the disease based on data from the city health department.

“Our study underscores that the swift vaccine rollout in New York City has played a pivotal role in reducing the COVID-19 burden and in curbing surges for more transmissible emerging variants,” said Dr. Alison Galvani, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at the Yale School of Public Health. “As the virulent Delta variant spreads among un-vaccinated new Yorkers, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated. The bottom line is that vaccination saves lives.”

Along with preventing a quarter-million cases, Galvani’s team predicts that New York City’s vaccine rollout stymied about 44,000 hospitalizations and 8,300 deaths. This study is a preprint, meaning it hasn’t been reviewed yet by an independent panel of experts for an academic journal. A draft copy of the manuscript was shared with WNYC/Gothamist.

This analysis follows on the heels of another preprint study released on July 8th, showing the real-world impacts of the COVID-19 vaccines on New York City’s senior citizens over the initial three months of the rollout. That research estimates that COVID-19 shots reduced hospitalizations by 15% among people over 65.