How it started: A newsletter to get through the pandemic.
How it’s going: 5,000+ people have asked us for help getting a vaccine.
In a recent discussion with Harlem Gunness, the director of St. John’s University’s public health program, we compared notes. Gunness just completed a study of conditions in Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst during the pandemic. Significantly, he found that social distancing and quarantining has been impossible in many households, even if one member contracts Covid-19; that Latinos lacked a primary care physician at higher rates than other groups; that many families lack soap, hand sanitizer and other essentials to get through a pandemic.
After hearing about Epicenter’s efforts, Gunness encouraged us to summarize our findings for broader dissemination. As a media organization, we know this is a nontraditional way to report a story and we never planned to pivot from a weekly newsletter into a full-service vaccine registration company. But three pandemics are colliding right now:
- Systemic racism
- Loneliness/absence of community
On its own, each would pose a significant obstacle to an efficient vaccine rollout. Together, they are creating a public-health crisis and exposing the limitations of business as usual. We at Epicenter feel uniquely positioned to be a part of the solution, born out of serving hard-hit communities, connecting intersectional audiences we consider our neighbors, and leveraging communications across platforms, media and languages.
These confusing, fragmented systems require some glue. So we share this reporting in hopes it informs vaccine distribution for the days to come, in New York City and beyond, and hastens efforts to get shots in arms to those who need them most. Here’s a summary of the experience of our team and volunteers, with the longer piece and proposed solutions for many of the problems identified here.
It’s very hard to get an appointment
Most people come to us in frustration. They or someone they love have heard they qualify but cannot figure out how to get a vaccine.
Essential workers and elderly people were given priority in eligibility but are precisely the people who cannot spend hours on a computer to book an appointment, so many have been left behind.
They give us their information in a few different ways:
- They fill out this online intake form.
- They see a flyer in any number of languages and follow the QR code to be taken to the form.
- They call 917-818-2690 and leave their information, which one of us then inputs into the intake form.
- They send an email to our main inbox. We received emails mostly in English but occasionally Spanish and Chinese.
- They text one of us after someone they knew (family member, fellow churchgoer, colleague) secured a vaccine through Epicenter.
- Their boss, supervisor or business owner reaches out and provides lists of qualifying employees (most common among restaurants).
Every day, we hear from so many eligible people who haven’t gotten their vaccines because of concerns over access, fear, time or language issues. To be clear, many of them have been eligible for months.
It is almost impossible even for those devoting their days to this effort to keep on top of all the twists and turns. Announcing changes and availability on social media (such as this tweet from an Assemblywoman saying people over the age of 85 could now just walk in; something we did not see in news stories or press releases elsewhere) means you have to be constantly plugged in to stay current. Those meant to be at the front of the proverbial line are the very populations that are not on the internet all day long, often unable to check email, let alone be on Twitter.
Without this technology or the ability to drop everything the instant a tweet goes out, the people most in need are not able to connect with the appointments (and this is assuming there is no further barrier such as language etc).
If an elderly person walks into a pharmacy to seek an appointment, she should be helped to get one instead of being directed to a website (there’s a reason she went in person). Most of the registrations require somebody’s email address; some sites reject using the same email twice, which makes it hard for a child booking on behalf of both parents.
The current system is about drawing different categories of people into vaccination centers; more effort needs to go into pushing vaccines out to communities. Read more.
Eligibility keeps expanding for vaccines (we see you 50+) and our volunteers can share tips and tricks to book yourself. Join us Wednesday, March 24, at 8 p.m., live-streaming on our socials
The many barriers between Asians and vaccines right now
One of our Chinese-language volunteers, Vivian Tam, started noticing patterns and obstacles facing the Asian community. Read our Q&A with her here.
To be Asian and Atlantan right now
By Simi Shah
Randy Park and I are the same age, 23. If my neighborhood were 2 miles to the left, we would’ve gone to the same high school. We’ve probably strolled the same parks; frequented the same shops. This little metro Atlanta suburb is our home.
Two days ago, Randy Park discovered that his mother, Hyung Jung Kim — “the strongest pillar in my life” as he described her — would never return home. A domestic terrorist killed her at the massage parlor where she worked, in an attack that left eight people, six of them Asian Americans, dead.
When I open up Randy’s GoFundMe page, a campaign that has raised over $1.5 million in the last few days, my eyes fixate on a singular phrase:
“This fundraiser is located near you.”
At first blush, it’s incredibly mundane, but it signifies something unbearably heavy. This hits home because this is home.
Randy and his brother belong to communities we’ve known our whole lives — we as in Asian Americans, we as in Atlantans. I spent my formative years in Duluth, Georgia, the very suburb where Randy lives, a suburb not 30 minutes from Acworth. On trips into the city, I’ve probably driven past that Gold Spa a hundred times. Continue reading.
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