BRONX, N.Y. (WROC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Yankee Stadium Monday for a coronavirus briefing where he announced a new campaign to help reduce COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy through community-based organizations in zip codes state with low vaccination rates.

“We see the COVID numbers and we see the reality, and we know what we have to do,” Gov. Cuomo said.

The governor said 75% of adults in New York state are now fully vaccinated, but the 25% of those unvaccinated account for approximately 3.5 million people.

“3.5 million unvaccinated people,” Gov. Cuomo said. “These numbers can be hard to put into context, but 3.5 million is larger than 21 other states’ total population. We have an unvaccinated population larger than the entire population of 21 states, and then when you put this COVID delta variant — which is transmitted much easier than the normal COVID virus — you put that variant with 3.5 million people, that spells ‘spread of COVID.’ That is what is happening. We know that’s what’s happening, we see it in the numbers, and numbers don’t lie.”

The governor said New York state reported 1,982 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, up from 346 new cases exactly one month ago. The governor said 72% of the new positives were linked to the delta variant as it has become the dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S.

The governor said the issue of breakthrough cases — when a fully vaccinated person becomes infected with COVID-19 — are rare in New York.

“The vaccines are working,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Only 0.15% of vaccinated New Yorkers have been infected by the delta variant. Think about that — only 0.15% of the people who received the vaccines had a breakthrough case. The vaccines work.”

Even in the rare circumstances of breakthrough cases in New York, the governor says vaccines still help protect those individuals from becoming seriously ill.

“Those who are vaccinated reduce the risk of hospitalization by 94%,” Gov. Cuomo said. “So if you’re vaccinated, you are much, much less likely to get the COVID virus to begin with, and if you get it, it is not as severe so you’re not hospitalized. Those are the facts.”

The governor said the issue of vaccine hesitancy isn’t new, but he said the state would invest $15 million in six statewide community organizations to run a community-based information campaign in targeted zip codes of where there are low vaccination rates.

“We’re looking for 25% of the population that hasn’t been vaccinated,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Target that population and target it in areas where you’ve seen COVID spread. We have zip codes across the state, 117 zip codes at only 6.7%.”

The governor said 61% of the targeted zip codes are in New York City, due to the larger total population, but added that there are zip codes with low vaccination rates throughout Upstate New York:

“We need a different approach and the approach has to be community-based organizations who can have conversations in the community with people who know them culturally, know their issues, their fears,” Gov. Cuomo said. “And it has to be a one-on-one conversation with that 25% because it’s not going to be a top-down message. It has to be someone who speaks their language, literally and figuratively and says ‘let’s talk about this, tell me what you’re worried about, tell me what your fear is,’ and then address it with facts. And that’s what we’re going to do today.”

The governor said the community-based campaign to combat COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy would include door-to-door efforts, PSAs, and community conversations.

“Some people are just nervous of the vaccine,” Gov. Cuomo said. “‘Well it was created quickly, I don’t know if they fully tested it.” I get it, these are not arguments, but on balance they don’t make sense. There’s no logical theory that anyone can advance now that says it’s more logical not to take the vaccine than to take the vaccine.

“Nobody can tell you that COVID in two years, three years, four years inside the body isn’t going to come back as something else,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Once that virus is inside the body, it’s there and it can have other manifestations. So yes, we don’t know long term consequences of the vaccine, but we don’t know the long term consequences of COVID either, and I’d rather take my chances with the long term consequences of the vaccine than the long term consequences of COVID. Denial does not work in a strategy, denial does not work in life. If you have a problem, you’re never going to solve it with denial.”

The governor said increasing the vaccination rate has to happen statewide because New York cannot endure more of what the state has endured since the pandemic began.

“We cannot go through what we went through over the past year,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We can’t, we can’t. You can’t, I can’t, the economy can’t, society can’t. We can’t go through it again.”

According to officials from the governor’s office, funding will be allocated to the following organizations. Some groups will use the funding to subcontract with organizations serving targeted communities. 

  • Hispanic Federation: $5.5 million for COVID-19 vaccine education and awareness, case management, and the establishment of community vaccination and education sites. This will include broad marketing efforts, door knocking in buildings with high populations of elderly residents, translators for outreach materials, the identification of barriers that may limit access to the vaccine for people of color, social media, and the leveraging of a network of more than 65 trusted Latino community-based organizations across the state. The Federation will leverage its staff and community-based nonprofits to deploy a network of bilingual/bicultural case managers and social workers to provide pre-screening and answer questions, among other efforts. It will also train, deploy and empower its existing network of community-based organizations to serve as one-stop hubs around COVID-19 community education, and whenever possible to serve as vaccination sites in collaboration with state and health authorities.
  • Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies: $5.5 Million for grassroots community and statewide direct outreach and public education on COVID-19 vaccination. FPWA will conduct statewide train-the-trainer town halls and make grants to 40 to 60 New York City-based community-based organizations, houses of worship, social organizations, and human service agencies in areas with greatest need to support COVID-19 vaccine outreach, education, and access assistance. The organization will also conduct direct outreach to Black communities, including live phone calls and text messaging. Finally, it will launch a paid targeted media campaign, including online ads and organizing efforts.
  • New York Immigration Coalition: $1 million to provide accurate, technical, and tailored COVID-19 and vaccine information directly to communities and through member organizations. NYIC will develop community-facing resources, that address the most recent qualification standards, public health information, and access points for the vaccine. The organization will also coordinate local resources such as COVID-19 and flu vaccine providers or pharmacies, food pantries, and health care services to create accessible and trusted referral programs to share with community members across the state. It will also conduct regional community education events across the state and webinars on COVID-19-specific content.
  • Asian American Federation, Charles B. Wang Community Center, APICHA Community Health Center: $1 million each to partner with Asian-serving community-based and civic organizations in New York State with outreach to hardest-to-reach members of the community, including homebound seniors, undocumented immigrants, limited-English-proficient families. The organizations will coordinate training and outreach materials, particularly coordinating the translation of materials; coordinate with the state and partners regarding vaccine scheduling; and help organizations with their outreach strategies.

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.