A challenging vaccine registration process and limited access have blocked seniors from obtaining life saving vaccines across New York. To help the community, several North Brooklyn organizations have joined forces to advocate for the health of seniors and urge city and state elected officials to help.
An estimated 1 in 6 seniors in New York City have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of February 10, according to a release by St. Nicks Alliance. This is particularly concerning, as people sixty-five years old and older are the most vulnerable to COVID-19’s effects, and represent 81.2% of deaths from the virus. Worse, vaccine appointment booking is primarily online, and 25% of New York City seniors cannot easily access a computer or the internet.
“In the beginning, a lack of local vaccination sites has been an obstacle for seniors. Now those who lack online access or the tech savvy skills have been unable to register despite the growth in the availability of the vaccine,” said Juan Ramos, Executive Director of Southside United HFDC – Los Sures, which operates the David Santiago and Williamsburg’s Swinging Sixties Senior Center. “When signing up, many seniors encountered snafus due to technical glitches with the system becoming overwhelmed for appointments. Many seniors who are homebound do not have an email address to utilize an online system.”
Seniors who have been able to book appointments have also had to travel to various neighborhoods and boroughs to get their shot, raising anxiety about contracting COVID during the risky, but necessary, commute.
“It is terrible that over 80% of COVID fatalities are seniors and they have been so-called prioritized, but yet there are huge obstacles to getting our seniors vaccinated,” said Phil Caponegro, Conselyea Street Block Association President and host to Swinging Sixties Senior Center.
Prior to February 11, North Brooklyn held only two vaccination sites at NYC Health + Hospitals, Woodhull and ODA Primary Healthcare Network. North Brooklyn Community Based Organizations St. Nicks Alliance, Southside United HFDC – Los Sures, and The People’s Firehouse have now launched a multi-tiered plan to bring vaccines to seniors in North Brooklyn. They aim to vaccinate 3000 seniors and home care attendants, while continuing to urge city and state leaders to open more vaccination sites, add mobile vaccination sites, and streamline the vaccine appointment registration process.
“With the cold temperatures and the COVID-19, it is really unsafe for seniors like me to travel. I feel like a prisoner. It is unfair for seniors in North Brooklyn to not have access to vaccines in the area,” said Margarita Almestica, an 80-year-old resident from Monsignor Vetro Apartments, one of St Nicks Alliance senior housing developments.
As of Friday, February 12, through outreach from Senator Brian Kavanagh’s office, the Governor’s office offered to look at additional Williamsburg sites proposed by St. Nicks Alliance. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s office is working on securing a mobile station for Williamsburg to help support the need for vaccines. “However, nothing has been confirmed and more needs to be done,” said Jose Leon, Deputy Executive Director at St. Nicks Alliance.
“We have appealed to all elected officials and public agencies to assist in opening up vaccinations to our elder populations, and we are making all resources and manpower available to help ensure that our seniors do not continue to get overlooked,” Leon said.
Over 600 elderly residents living in St. Nicks Alliance managed buildings. “Many are frail and have difficulty in getting out in the cold weather.,” said Frank Lang, St. Nicks Alliance Director of Housing. “We try to help them sign up for vaccination appointments which can be a difficult and long process. It would be more efficient and safer for these seniors to have a mobile unit come and vaccinate all the residents in each building where they can safely come by appointment without the danger of traveling offsite.”
The community plan to bring COVID-19 vaccinations to North Brooklyn seniors consists of the below:
- Setting up fixed and mobile vax sites in well-known community facilities (senior centers: Los Sures David Santiago Senior Citizens Center, 201 S 4th Street and Swinging Sixties Senior Center, 211 Ainslie Street; senior housing sites such as: Metro Houses, 609 Metropolitan Avenue; Jennings Hall, 260 Powers Street; Monsignor Vetro Houses, 320 Devoe Street; and Monsignor Alexius Jarka Hall, 70 Bedford Avenue; large housing complexes like local NYCHA housing).
- Partnering with providers to streamline appointment registration process and allow local groups to register seniors
- Providing transportation: St. Nicks Alliance will make their Swinging Sixties Senior Bus and Youth Bus vehicles available
- Partnering with local drugstores to bring vaccines to the homes and home care workers of the homebound
- Partnering with local elected leaders
“We have reached out to local medical providers and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene requesting their assistance in providing vaccination opportunities for our seniors in independent housing,” said Myrna Yen, ALP Administrator for Jennings Hall. “We remain hopeful that as the vaccine allocation improves and ongoing advocacy for our seniors continue, opportunities will open up for onsite vaccination in our local senior centers and senior housing buildings.”