We didn’t set out to register 64 people to get vaccinated. It just kind of happened.
We’ve learned a thing or two, actually 11, on this journey of registering dozens of New Yorkers. More on that below:
First, some vaccine updates:
- Starting on Feb. 15, New Yorkers with certain conditions and comorbidities will be eligible for the vaccine.
- NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) licensed drivers and restaurant workers became eligible last week.
- Indoor dining is set to resume in NYC this weekend.
- A 24-hour mega vaccine site is opening at Citi Field tomorrow, Feb. 10. Half the vaccines will be allocated to Queens residents, while the remainder will be reserved for food workers and TLC licensees.
OK, here’s the deal on vaccines.
1. If you make it easy for people, they will get vaccinated. This is perhaps obvious but the main reason people were not registering was not from a lack of will or belief in the vaccine’s efficacy. It’s because they didn’t know how to navigate the many sites, or don’t have jobs that allow them to be on the internet all day, or they heard on the news that things are a mess and figured they should wait. The number of well-informed folks who you might think would be first in line are not. Call them and ask if they need help.
2. That being said, mistrust is an issue. We helped a woman who lives in eastern Queens and, pre-Covid, attended church in East Elmhurst. At first she just asked us to register her and her cousin. Once they went, saw how easy the process at Newtown High School was, how helpful the staff was and how quickly it all went, she started spreading the word to members of her church. They trust her, and, through her, contacted us to help secure appointments (seven of them!). But they needed her to go first, to reach that level of comfort. It’s worth noting she is Black, well-educated, an emigrant from Jamaica and in her 70s.
The experience echoes the advice in the Journal of American Medicine’s profile of Dr. Ala Stanford, who launched the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium in Philadelphia. Excerpt:
JAMA: What do you think it will take for Black Americans to embrace a vaccine?
Dr. Stanford: I believe it will take trusted leaders to impart the safety, the efficacy, and the importance. It won’t be your president, your surgeon general, your secretary of health because the messages have been so mixed from the beginning.
I personally think it’s going to take me, or someone like me, receiving the vaccine live and following me…to see how I’m doing and measuring my antibody response. For some, that still won’t be enough. There are lots of folks that are like, “No, I’ll just wear a mask and stay socially isolated.” So, we have our work cut out for us.
3. Transportation is a real issue. There’s a game of hopscotch going on across the city and essential workers without cars and elderly who don’t have a lot of mobility don’t want to play. We registered an immigrant couple in their 60s from the Bronx to get the vaccine in downtown Manhattan at 5 a.m. (and felt really bad about that trek and timing, but there was no choice) — only to read last week that appointments in the Bronx were going unused. The Queens megasite at Citi Field, right off the 7 train, gives us hope we can solve accessibility for this population. When possible, offer to drive people, pay for their Uber and/or assure them they can really be in and out.
4. There’s a fear of lines. Some of this is because of the pandemic and a fear of being indoors. But the elderly also have canes, walkers and wheelchairs and the process of lugging around all that gear, waiting in the lines you see on television, possibly being alone or outside in the cold for the whole thing is terrifying. What we in the media need to show are clear steps of the process of getting vaccinated (including if there are any steps!), the social distancing enforced, the efficiency with which intake and the actual jab occurs. The process of making you safer is safe! Here’s an example:
5. Documentation is a deterrent, and race really seems to matter. Thrice, folks called us because they were being scrutinized: a Tibetan childcare worker, a Latino adjunct professor and an elderly Asian immigrant couple. We have registered at least a dozen white people but none of them seem to have encountered these issues. Of course, eligibility must be proven but the levels of checking seem inconsistent across the city. That’s really hard on undocumented or otherwise marginalized communities whose main access to information is word of mouth. Will they ask for ID? An answer like “it depends” is deterrent. See point 1: You want to make this easy. (Side note, but related: We need many more translators at vaccine sites.)
6. OK, so now about securing an actual appointment. We sadly have no secret or superpowers. Refresh refresh refresh is your best friend. We mostly use the city’s main vaccine hub, the Northwell and Affiliated Physicians sites. Sometimes it takes minutes, more often it takes hours. (Don’t worry, we do other work in between hitting refresh, like editing this newsletter.)
7. Social media has really come to the rescue. One day, a friend posted on Facebook that the city had just released a bunch of appointments and we began proactively calling people to help get them in. These groups might alert you to open appointments:
Helping NYC Get Vaccinated (also has info on Long Island, Westchester and across NY state)
Upper Manhattan City Councilman Mark D. Levine has emerged a hero of the pandemic for the context and threads of information he provides. Follow him on Twitter.
We are also finding this Twitter bot, which alerts you in real time to vaccine appointments, helpful.
A word on New Jersey. We’ve been getting requests from Jersey and have been unable to crack this system (anyone out there wanna help our friends?) but two social feeds to track:
Facebook: New Jersey Covid Vaccine Info
Twitter: A Jersey-centric Covid feed
8. If you see an appointment, grab it. Do not think, just go. Do not check your calendar. Do not map it. Keep a list of folks at the ready who have given you their info and input their details. (Last week, when the city announced restaurant workers qualified, we reached out to our favorite spots to see if they needed help. That led to literally dozens texting us their info. How good does it feel for restaurants to call us, for a change?) Many times, the appointments are gone before you can register. It’s also much easier to change appointments or get a human once you are in the system. (Note: Some places look like they have appointments but won’t let you register unless you can schedule the second dose at the same time.)
9. Megasites seem to be most effective for walk-ins. For those hoping for a dose at day’s end or the elderly or otherwise qualified but can’t get an appointment online, the bigger the site, the better their chances. That’s why we have high hopes for Citi Field. If you have an existing relationship with a hospital or clinic offering vaccines, that helps, too. (Update from one of our readers who got vaccinated last night at 125 Worth St., a 24-7 vaccine site in downtown Manhattan: People can sign up here to be put on a standby list to be called later, likely not that same day or night, if spots become available. They call a lot of people off this list. Even if on standby, you need proof of being in an eligible group, though.)
10. “Unprioritized” people are most definitely getting the vaccine. We see a lot of shaming about this and understand the frustration. Remember, though, we want people to associate the vaccine with ubiquity, access, the ease of getting the shot. There are unused doses, in some cases by the dozens, and there are desperate people all too willing to take them. Instead of finger pointing, neighbors should … refresh their browsers and help those who need it. (For what it’s worth, we know of cases where volunteering at a vaccine clinic is a pathway to snagging unused doses.)
11. Prioritize Black and Brown people. The city’s inequity on who is getting vaccines is becoming embarrassingly apparent. Remember what those protests you went to last summer were really about, and try to spread the word among our neighbors who might otherwise lack access.