Dear Neighbor,

As we’re sure you’ve heard, the Covid-19 vaccine is being administered in New York City. But what exactly does that mean for you?

Are you eligible? The first people to receive the vaccine were high-risk hospital workers in the communities hardest-hit by Covid, as well as nursing home and long-term care residents. That group is known as 1A.

The phase for the category known as 1B, which started yesterday, is much broader, and includes people 75 and older, first responders, corrections officers, teachers and school staff, in-person college instructors, childcare workers, grocery store employees, transit workers and those living and working in homeless shelters. That group, however, totals more than 4 million people, and New York only receives 300,000 doses per week from the federal government, meaning the wait could be more than three months. You can check your eligibility and schedule an appointment (they’re required at the moment) to receive the vaccine with New York’s “Am I Eligible” app.

photo: Calvin Sun

We spoke with emergency room physician Calvin Sun (who runs the very informative @monsoondiaries Instagram account) and epidemiologist Jonathan Epstein of the Jackson Heights Science Communication Initiative to better understand the rollout. What are your questions? We’re going to be keeping up with this for a while so let us know.

What is it like receiving the vaccine? 

CS: The only side effect I felt after the first dose was cautious joy and an indescribable feeling of relief. Most negative side effects occur after the second dose — headaches and chills — usually nine to 12 hours after the second dose. This is especially true if you had Covid before; the response is stronger, which is understandable — your old antibodies are reacting to the new antibodies. I had mild chills after the second dose that lasted about 12 hours.

Can you get the vaccine in another state? Say your parents live in a state where vaccines are more readily available to the general population. Should you travel there to get it?

JE: No. Vaccines are provided to each state for its own residents. NY state residents, when eligible, should use local locations to receive the vaccine. While it’s been bumpy getting vaccines out in NYC, they’re opening new vaccine centers all the time and it should get better.

Is it true that you can get vaccinated by standing around clinics at the end of the day and hoping they have doses they don’t want to throw away? 

JE: No. While there are rumors, this is not true.

My mom is under 75 and my dad is older than 75. Does this mean they have to be vaccinated separately? 

JE: Yes, they must each be eligible to get vaccinated.

How should you act after you receive the vaccination? Do you still have to wear a mask? 

CS: Still wear your mask, still isolate, still take precautions. You never know if you are an asymptomatic carrier. We don’t have enough data to know if the vaccine prevents spreading it. We don’t know if the mutations pose an additional risk in the future. The vaccine, while better than nothing may not offer complete coverage.

How does this second wave compare to when New York City was initially hit in March? 

CS: We’re seeing more patients than we did in the first wave but at a much slower and more tolerable rate.  It’s a very slow burning second wave, unlike what we are seeing in California. New York City has always been punched many times over since the World Trade Center bombing, Hurricane Sandy, 9/11 and the financial crisis, we are always in the crosshairs. We respond well after we get punched. We are so accustomed to being traumatized we respond very quickly. We all wore masks, we all looked out for one another, we believe in science.

We want to check in — how are healthcare workers holding up?

CS: How do you think we feel after being thrown into the fire without Kevlar or armor.  It’s been disheartening since March to not have enough PPE as a frontline healthcare worker. We’ve been so inundated with PTSD, so morally injured. You can compare it to lambs being led to slaughter, and we’re just expected to take care of the world when we still have $300,000 of student loans to pay off.

 It’s unconscionable that for years, the healthcare system was not able to adequately fund the way it was supposed to. Most of the funding has relied on elective surgeries and when you cut that flow of money because of a pandemic, the money dries up. And hospitals, in preparation for a pandemic instead of staffing more in preparation of war, they decide to furlough and let go of PAs, NPs, doctors and nurses because they had no more money to pay for them anymore. Those elective surgeries aren’t just going to bounce back.

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