By Jeanne Pinder, Sree Bhagavan, Bifen Xu and S. Mitra Kalita
People keep saying that vaccine hesitancy, or vaccine resistance, is causing people not to get vaccinated in large numbers.
So we’ve been in a standstill, across the country, as the issue of whether to vaccinate divides us across political and personal lines. A few weeks ago, we (a consortium of three media organizations) began outreach in a severely undervaccinated neighborhood in New York City to better understand what prevented folks from getting their shots. The bottom line: We still have a chance to do the right thing.
Wednesday marked the first of four pop-up vaccine sites in Queens Village, a partnership of our organizations with New York City Test and Trace to bring Pfizer and J&J doses to this pocket of southeast Queens. What happened? Dozens of people showed up to a little-publicized site in the parking lot at the SS Joachim and Anne church near Wayanda Park in Queens Village. By the end of the day, more than 60 people had been vaccinated.
They thanked us for the convenience. Many said they’d found it difficult to get the second shot — or even the first shot.
Months into a global vaccine rollout, we cannot blame hesitancy alone; logistical difficulties still plague many communities who need their vaccines. If it’s hard to get a shot, and it’s not your top priority (because you need to pick up your kids from school, or you’re working three jobs), then making it easy and accessible makes a huge difference. This might sound obvious but we’ve spent months covering Covid and have found that we cannot take the flow of basic news and information — from the ground up to policymakers and politicians, or the reverse from official mask mandates or guidance on boosters — for granted.
We started this work in Queens Village through a grant called the Vaccine Equity Partner Engagement, with the Fund for Public Health of New York City, using Centers for Disease Control money, in partnership with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of New York City. Our three media organizations are Epicenter-NYC, ClearHealthCosts and TBN24.
The lack of connectivity
We learned pretty quickly that this zip code, 11429, has two vaccine sites, both through chain drug stores (Rite Aid and Walgreens). Neither accepts walk-ins all the time, and you need to book the appointment online. (All three of our organizations have done extensive reporting on how this is a deterrent.) Only 56% of Queens Village residents have got one shot; that’s lower than Queens’ 75% and New York City’s 69%.
We also looked for transit hubs, grocery stores and other gathering spots. One trait undervaccinated communities share is that they are less connected and boast fewer of these quality-of-life features of other neighborhoods.
There are no city vaccine sites in this neighborhood, so the city’s $100 incentive is not really in play. In the early days of our outreach efforts, we made a flyer to help publicize the $100 incentive. When we gave it to people in Queens village, we had to tell them there are no nearby sites. (To get the incentive, you can look up the city sites on the vaccinefinder.nyc.gov site.)
Then we asked the city to help us schedule a vaccine van or bus in Queens Village. That’s hard, too. There are 50 buses, they said, and 750 standing requests. So we went a different direction; using contacts through a consortium run by St. John’s University that includes Epicenter-NYC and NYC Health+Hospitals, we got in touch with the New York City Test and Trace folks, and they sent a van. (Please spread the word! There’s still three days left.)
Some reactions from our newly vaccinated neighbors:
– People loved the convenience of walk-ins. No appointments, no waiting.
-People also came seeking Covid testing. This link between testing and the vaccine, we believe, is an opportunity in undervaccinated areas, a chance to share the latest information on testing, boosters, masks and answer questions on the vaccine.
-People were drawn to the $100 New York City vaccine incentive. That incentive is not available in Queens Village because there are no city of New York vaccine sites. Thankfully, the Test and Trace van was considered a city site, so we could offer the incentive.
– Less arduous identification requirements were welcome, like only needing to show a name and address on a bill or picture of an ID.
Who were some of the people who got vaccinated?
One man waited more than 40 minutes while our nurses took a lunch break. He said that he had decided to get the vaccine on Wednesday and that if he walked away because of the lunch break, he didn’t know when he would seek out the vaccine again. We asked why he had waited this long. He said his wife was not well and needed surgery and he was the only caretaker for two months. The vaccine was not on his mind.
A UPS driver and two construction workers in the area stopped by to get their vaccines, just because they saw the van.
A grandmother begged her daughter and granddaughter to get vaccinated and they relented because they wanted to go to a show at the Barclay’s Center where it was mandatory.
Many parents brought their children, ages 12 and up, for vaccines.
The van will be at the same place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26, Wednesday, Sept. 29, and Sunday, Oct. 3. Vaccines offered: Pfizer (for ages 12 and up) and Johnson & Johnson (for ages 18 and up). And remember: it’s free!
For further information, please call (917) 818-2690 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org