State opens COVID vaccine hub at Crown Heights public housing

COVID-19 vaccine
Health care workers get ready to vaccinate patients at the William Reid Houses in Brooklyn.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The new COVID-19 vaccine hub that opened Saturday morning at Brooklyn’s William Reid House is more than just about protecting people from the deadly illness, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The state’s chief executive said t/he hub, along with others opening up at public housing complexes and churches across the state in the days and weeks to come, aims to ensure that everyone gets access to the life-saving shot regardless of their background.

COVID-19 hit Black and Latinx New Yorkers the hardest, Cuomo reminded; since the health crisis began last spring, Black residents who suffered from the virus died at twice the rate of white New Yorkers; Latino victims succumbed to the virus at 1.5 times the death rate among white patients.

The pandemic exposed the long-ignored systemic racism and discrimination in the health care system of New York and America, the governor noted.

“We’ve seen low tide in America and all the ugliness,” he said. “We saw racism, discrimination and inequality. That’s what we’ve seen on the bottom. It is undeniable.” 

With the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, Cuomo said, the state is determined that such disparities do not prevent New Yorkers of color from getting protected from the deadly contagion, as the borough-wide test positivity rate hovers around 4.3 percent

But setting up COVID-19 vaccine hubs where they are needed is only half the battle; the other half, Cuomo said, is convincing all who are skeptical about the vaccine to trust the science and get it.

“Our bigger problem is the acceptance, especially among the Black and Latino community, because they’re skeptical of a vaccine approved by the [previous] Trump administration,” Cuomo said.

Fears about vaccine skepticism prompted New York to set up a medical team to provide a secondary layer of oversight for the Pfizer and Moderna shots, which the team ultimately approved, along with the FDA, in December 2020.

“I believe in the vaccine,” he added Saturday. “There’s no politics here. My mother, my daughters and I would not let anyone take the vaccine unless I knew it was safe. It is safe. Take the vaccine. It will save lives, and it can save your life.”

The hubs are being set up in partnership with the nonprofit SOMOS Community Care, which has been on the front lines of the pandemic in communities of color from the start. 

COVID-19 vaccine
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

SOMOS Founder Henry Muñoz believes the creation of COVID-19 vaccine hubs in housing complexes and churches will go a long way toward helping New York reach critical mass against the virus, and finally end the pandemic. 

“We are opening up other vaccine sites at NYCHA and in churches and larger scale places where we know we can bring access to the people who need it the most, and who will listen to the trusted voices in their communities — the doctors and nurses who have always taken care of them,” Muñoz said. “We think we can have a real impact on the state’s efforts to vaccinate New York and to bring this vaccination of hope to people because it’s the only way we’ll be able to return to work, rebuild our businesses and make sure our children can go back to school or college.” 

The hubs are being created with the distribution of vaccination kits, the first four of which are being distributed at NYCHA sites Saturday, according to central Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. More than 1,000 senior residents were expected to receive the first dose on Jan. 23. 

The doses come at a time when the state is short on supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, basically administering the vaccines almost as quickly as they are received from the federal government. Clarke said additional vaccine hubs and kits will be opened and distributed as more vaccines are received.

“We now have a president and a vice president with the new administration who understand the dire need for a national testing strategy,” she added. “Their dedication to deliver 100 million shots in 100 days will cover 50 million people nationally. It is a critical step toward getting us past the COVID-19 crisis.

Both Clarke and fellow Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries expressed confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, and called on the public to get the shot when they can.

“We are urging everyone to trust science and get vaccinated,” Jeffries said. “COVID-19 will kill you, and we have seen that particularly with devastating consequence in Black communities, in low-income communities and in traditionally underserved communities. That is why the governor and we are here at this NYCHA location to make sure that the services are being brought to the people, as opposed to expecting the people to have to speak out with desperation and futility.”

This story first appeared on amNewYork.com.