New York’s vaccine rollout process, which many hoped would bring relief to the city, has been mired with issues and inequalities. The City failed to meet its goal of vaccinating 1 million New Yorkers in January, ran out of doses, and had to reschedule thousands of appointments. The City’s Vaccination hotline launched with only English options and doses were discarded due to strict regulations. For eligible individuals, just getting an appointment can be nearly impossible. And in an era where neighbors are stepping in to support each other when the government doesn’t, New Yorkers are rising to the occasion.
Brooklynite Sam Reichstein’s interest in the issue, “was piqued after witnessing my own friends and family (who are currently eligible) attempt to navigate this tricky and challenging process. If it is/was hard for them, I could only imagine how much harder it would be for someone in their sixties or older.”
Reichstein decided to get involved, and launched NBK Vax, an initiative of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid in late January. Reichstein, who works in marketing, drew on her skills in social media, communications, and “startup culture” are helping me in the early stages of creating, informing, and delegating responsibilities.”
Currently, the initiative is looking for volunteers who will “have various areas to choose to help out with, including (but not limited to) appointment assistance and creation – which can be confusing as the portals keep changing on a weekly basis (and appointments fill up fast!), transportation to and from appointments for those who need to travel outside of their neighborhood, local outreach initiatives, translation services… Essentially anything that can help make this process more efficient for our neighbors who need it most is helpful.” Volunteers can get in touch on Instagram, via email, or by phone (917-426-4988).
Connecting with neighbors is an important first step, Reichstein says, “The biggest way people can help is spreading the word that resources and help with the COVID-19 vaccine process is available. We all know someone either in our building, on our street, or at our local grocery store who is elderly. Check in on them, and let them know that their community cares.”
COVID-19 has disproportionally impacted Black people and communities of color and this pattern is unfortunately continuing with vaccine access so far, “We’ve started seeing some of the data roll in, and the numbers alone speak for themselves: Three white residents receive a COVID-19 vaccine for every Black or Latino person in the city. When looking at age breakdown, it gets even worse. Of those 65+, white adults have taken about four to five times as many COVID-19 vaccines as people of color.” Some vaccination sites have seen an influx of residents from outside of New York City traveling to receive doses meant for New Yorkers.
City eligibility requirements can be confusing and lack clarity, notes Reichstein, “It’s hard to find clear answers on who is eligible (and what went into that decision), where they can make an appointment, and how to get to those appointments safely. Those who are in the know and have more resources to their disposal are the clear “winners” here. Being eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine means little to none if you don’t have resources to find, secure, and get each dose in a timely manner.”
Reichstein continues, “It’s a problem of privilege, and an unfair system that currently allows those with the capability to ‘cut the line’ and book an appointment to do so with no consequences. Unless more fair processes are put into place where access and availability are widened, protection against COVID-19 will continue to be disproportionate.”