By Katherine Tam
“Do you trust God?” the speaker asked, trying to convince the audience at the outdoor Juneteenth celebration to go inside into the church’s gym to get vaccinated.
For the past few months, Community Healthcare Network (CHN) has been running a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the New Jerusalem Worship Center in Jamaica, Queens. This past Saturday, the vaccination clinic coincided with Juneteenth, just two days after President Biden signed into law a bill making Juneteenth a U.S. federal holiday.
Epicenter-NYC has been working with Community Healthcare Network via the nonprofit Stop the Spread to send members of our community there or one of its other three sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Outside the Jamaica church, the Juneteenth celebration tent was busy with neighbors listening to speakers and visiting tables selling food and jewelry or promoting health and fitness services. A church deacon proudly told me that the church celebrates Juneteenth every year.
When I ventured inside, the vaccination clinic wasn’t as busy.
What a difference from just weeks ago: A CHN organizer recalls that each time vaccine eligibility was extended to a new age group, people would flood the site. He says when vaccine eligibility was extended to those ages 16 and up starting last April, about 200 to 300 people would come in per session to get vaccinated. The same thing happened in May when Pfizer vaccine eligibility was extended to those ages 12 and up.
Since then, he and a nurse each told me that about 40-50 people might be vaccinated each time CHN holds its vaccination clinic at this church. The clinic is held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on weekends.
One reason CHN continues to run a vaccination clinic is to try to boost the local area’s vaccination rates. As of this past weekend, according to NYC data, the local 11434 Zip code area had just under 40% of its residents receiving at least one vaccine dose, and just under 35% of the local zip code area’s residents being fully vaccinated. That compares to 60% of Queens residents who have received at least one vaccine dose, and 53% of Queens residents fully vaccinated.
Several people did come into the vaccination clinic to get free health screenings. A CHN organizer reported at least 24 people had been vaccinated by the end of Juneteenth. He says when the FDA does expand vaccine eligibility to those under age 12, he expects more people will then come in to get vaccinated.
Those who did come in to get vaccinated today had various reasons for doing so. Among them:
- At least two people said they want to travel again. One woman said she and her family want to travel upstate for the summer. Another man said he’s now retired, so he and his wife would like to go to Antigua for their wedding anniversary.
- A teenage girl came in with her mother, who tells me that if her daughter was going to experience any side effects from her vaccination, they would prefer that her daughter deal with them now during the summer so that her daughter can get ready to return to school for in-person learning this fall.
- Another reason we hear over and over: More people have finally been convinced by family members and loved ones to get vaccinated. Several people mentioned that they saw how a loved one had previously been vaccinated. Another person said he had a talk with his mother, who was already vaccinated and finally convinced him to begin his vaccinations. One man also said that he decided to get vaccinated because his son had Covid-19; he has since recovered from it.
- It might take weeks to convince people — but it’s possible. For months, there was a woman who kept visiting the vaccination clinic, but she wouldn’t get vaccinated, a CHN organizer told me. Then one day, while that organizer was doing check-ins, she looked up and saw that same woman looking at her: she decided it was time to begin her vaccinations. The other CHN organizer also noticed that they’re increasingly getting more walk-in visits.
While giving out incentives has worked for some vaccination sites depending on the community and the type of incentive being offered, CHN echoes others in saying that what really helps are family members and friends getting vaccinated and urging their loved ones to do so.
A speaker at the Juneteenth celebration stressed the importance of trusting God — and trusting each other. Later, another speaker encouraged vaccination: “Have faith over fear.”