Hospital staff vaccination rates vary across Capital Region, Mohawk Valley

Saratoga Hospital staff members receive cheers by local residents  outside the hospital on Myrtle Street in Saratoga Springs on April 3, 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Saratoga Hospital staff members receive cheers by local residents  outside the hospital on Myrtle Street in Saratoga Springs on April 3, 2020.

ALBANY — Hospital staff COVID vaccination rates range from 66% to 99% in the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley, underscoring the erratic nature of the population’s willingness to receive the vaccine.

Back in December, New York gave medical care providers top priority and preferred access to the very limited supply of vaccine when it was rolled out for public use.

A second surge of infections and hospitalizations was building to a peak in the state at the time, and the strategy was to immunize care providers first because they simultaneously would be among the most vulnerable to contracting the virus and among the most vital to protect from the virus while caring for a growing number of sick people.

During his COVID briefings in that period, Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly praised hospitals with high vaccination rates, called out hospitals that were lagging and wondered aloud why some medical professionals were hesitant — they should be more aware than anyone of the importance of vaccination, he said.

More than four months later, the vaccination rates are higher but the split between most- and least- vaccinated hospitals remains significant.

THE NUMBERS

The Daily Gazette on Jan. 27 submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for the vaccination rates for hospitals in the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley regions. The state Department of Health provided the data May 5.

As of April 27, the Capital Region stats are:

  • Albany Medical Center 90.3%
  • Columbia Memorial 80.5%
  • Ellis 83.3%
  • Glens Falls 76.6%
  • Samaritan 99.4%
  • Saratoga 78.7%
  • St. Peter’s 96.1%

The Mohawk Valley stats are:

  • A.O. Fox Memorial 65.9%
  • Cobleskill Regional 71.4%
  • Faxton-St. Luke’s 77.0%
  • Little Falls 72.1%
  • Mary Imogene Bassett 80.7%
  • Nathan Littauer 85.5%
  • Rome Memorial 65.9%
  • St. Elizabeth 73.3%
  • St. Mary’s Healthcare 75.5%

More broadly:

  • The Capital Region is first among the state’s 10 regions, with 88% of hospital workers vaccinated.
  • The Mohawk Valley is third, with 76%.
  • New York City is last at 66%.
  • The statewide average of county-level rates is 71%.

The state Department of Health data count only fully vaccinated hospital employees. The numbers are self-reported by the hospitals.

BEHIND THE NUMBERS

The two Capital Region hospitals with the highest vaccination rates by a significant margin are both operated by St. Peter’s Health Partners.

Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Steven Hanks said he doesn’t think SPHP did anything differently than other hospitals, but thinks perhaps SPHP did it earlier and more often.

“Even before the vaccine became available we were explaining to our staff the importance,” he said. The pressure to get the shot was constant but did not reach the level of mandated vaccination, he said — he’s aware of only one medical organization that has done that, and it’s halfway across the country.

The push on education included discussion of the potential side effects of the vaccine.

“I haven’t really sensed a lot of vaccine hesitancy here,” said Hanks, who has been the organization’s incident commander for the pandemic since its start.

“There seemed to be a big sigh of relief when the vaccine became available.”

Within the 12,000-strong SPHP workforce, physical reactions to the vaccine have been limited to flulike symptoms, and about a dozen people have developed mild COVID infections after receiving the shot. This is less so far than the 15 mild infections and one severe infection that Hanks predicted, based on the 94% to 95% rated efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

With infection rates plunging in the Capital Region, Hanks said the outlook is good but not perfect.

“We’re looking at the South African strain and the Brazilian strain,” he said. “They’re in the U.S. but they’re not widely distributed like the U.K. strain.”

The current vaccines are less effective against those new strains, but the manufacturers are developing a booster shot that is more effective.

The question is whether there’s another surge before the booster is available, Hanks said.

REFLECTING THE COMMUNITY

St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam has a higher vaccination rate than some of its counterparts in the Mohawk Valley and exceeds the state average, but it is firmly in the lower range of the rates reported this week by the DOH.

Spokesman Rich Hyde said this may be a reflection of the surrounding community — most Mohawk Valley counties have a lower vaccination rate than most Capital Region counties.

Montgomery County’s neighbor to the east, Schenectady County, has the fourth-highest rate of at least partial vaccination in the state — 56.2%, compared with 45.5% in Montgomery County.

But that theory doesn’t work everywhere. Nathan Littauer Hospital has the highest vaccination rate in the Mohawk Valley, 85.5%, and it sits in Fulton County, where only 35.8% of residents are at least partly vaccinated, the third-lowest rate in the state.

Hyde said St. Mary’s worked to get its employees to vaccinate.

“We really did a good solid push to our associates about the facts around the vaccine,” he said. These included town hall-style meetings with the hospital’s chief medical officer.

“We got a pretty good response rate on that,” Hyde said. “That’s when we got the most adoption among our associates.”

There was an adequate supply of vaccine, he added.

Looking forward, there’s no plan at this point to mandate vaccination, nor any plan to stop pitching it.

“We stay out there pretty regularly with our leadership speaking about our vaccination rates,” Hyde said.

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