White individuals took Covid-19 vaccination websites within the Latino Washington Heights neighborhood of New York
The location at the Armory Track & Field Center in Washington Heights was opened on January 14th by New York-Presbyterian Hospital and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Vaccination appointments were originally offered to people 65 and older who lived in New York State.
Lawmakers representing Washington Heights and a doctor who manned the site last week said the first wave of vaccinations had gone to many white New Yorkers over 65 who had traveled to the armory from other parts of the city and state.
“The more I find out about it, the angrier I get,” said de Blasio during a virtual press conference. “Instead of focusing on the Washington Heights Latino community that was hit really hard by Covid, the approach was kind of conducive to people from outside the community who are coming and getting vaccinated, but not people who are right there in Washington Live Heights. Completely backwards. ”
“New Yorkers of color” should take pictures
The problem at the Washington Heights site is a glaring example of inequality in access to vaccines across the country.
In a press release announcing the launch, Cuomo said the goal of the partnership with New York-Presbyterian, Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center is “to ensure that New Yorkers aren’t left with color.” CNN reached out to New York-Presbyterian on Wednesday to inquire about the inequality, and a hospital spokeswoman made a statement saying the site would dedicate all of its appointment slots to residents of New York City, with at least 60 % reserved for eligible city residents are communities in Washington Heights, Inwood, North and Central Harlem, and South Bronx.
New York Presbyterian said in an email to CNN Friday that more than 80% of people vaccinated were residents of those communities in the past two days.
“An ongoing engagement initiative is focused on reaching eligible North Manhattan residents and registering them for appointments,” the hospital said in a statement on Wednesday. “This process is being carried out in partnership with more than 40 community and faith-based organizations and other partners, and focuses on providing access, overcoming hesitation and eliminating persistent inequalities.”
According to the hospital, more than 25,000 people have been vaccinated at the site since it opened. New York Presbyterian had no racial breakdown of vaccine recipients.
Washington Heights and neighboring Inwood, which are 72% Latino according to the 2018 NYC Health report, have been a hotbed of Covid-19 cases. Latinos account for 30% of New York City deaths.
‘It’s like’ The Hunger Games’
New York City Councilor Mark Levine told CNN that the first sign-up process for the Armory site requires multiple steps to register and verify eligibility, and Washington Heights residents who don’t speak English and aren’t tech savvy don’t considered.
In Washington Heights / Inwood, 37% of residents have “limited English proficiency” according to the 2018 NYC Health Report.
A Jan. 14 statement posted on the New York state website stated that individuals eligible to receive the vaccine should register through a portal website for patients from Columbia, New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine create a new account on a separate page.
“It’s like The Hunger Games,” said Levine. “People who don’t have a computer, don’t have good internet, aren’t familiar with technology, may have limited English, can’t get through. And that’s reflected in who shows up at these locations.”
Dr. Susana Bejar of Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center said she witnessed the inequality in Washington Heights first hand when she volunteered to be an appointment checker at the armory on Jan. 23.
Bejar said of the 2,400 people who received the vaccine that day, most were not from the local community. “Simply put, I’ve never seen so many white people in Washington Heights,” Bejar tweeted on Sunday.
Bejar said the website should give priority to Washington Heights residents by allowing same-day and walking appointments, reserving vaccines for those who live in the community, helping people who are struggling to log into the smartphone app , and gives the residents time to plan their appointments.
“It’s difficult to get both speed and equity,” Bejar told CNN. “If vaccines are distributed primarily via a smartphone application in English to whoever updates the application first, long-standing structural inequalities will replicate unless the medical community makes conscious and consistent efforts to address them.”
The need for community partnerships
Differences in who gets the Covid-19 vaccine is a nationwide problem.
A CNN analysis of 14 states found vaccine coverage for whites is on average twice that of blacks and Latinos.
The analysis found that an average of more than 4% of the white population received a Covid-19 vaccine, about 2.3 times higher than the black population (1.9% covered) and 2.6 times higher than the Hispanic Population (1.8% covered).
De Blasio said vaccine providers should work with community groups, local health care providers, clergy and trusted community leaders to ensure people of color have fair access.
The problem is compounded by the fact that there has been a shortage of vaccines in New York. Cuomo said this week that there weren’t enough dosages for the 7 million people eligible to receive the shot under federal guidelines.
“We are nowhere near the supplies we need,” said De Blasio at the press conference on Friday.
MP Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) said his office had received several complaints alleging that the local community had been banned from vaccinations in the armory. Espaillat said he believed it was a mistake and partnerships with local churches and senior centers were critical to the Washington Heights vaccination effort.
“From day one, I was concerned about the vaccine distribution that was not allowing rich people to get in and push our people out so they could jump the line and get the shot first,” Espaillat said. “I think it’s fixed now, but we’ll be monitoring it for the next few days.”
Washington Heights community groups say they must be involved in every sales effort if healthcare leaders are to reach people of color.
Jon-Paul Dyson, program director for the Community League of the Heights (CLOTH), said many residents do not have WiFi or email access and therefore rely on word of mouth, literature in the mail, or their social service providers for information .
Dyson said he was working with the health community to get residents vaccinated.
“Education is the biggest piece that is currently missing,” said Dyson on Thursday. “The places we need to go, the transportation for our seniors to get there, all of the above.”
CNN’s Priya Krishnakumar and Deidre McPhillips contributed.