By Victoria Falk, Special to CAW
New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, and Dr. Torian Easterling, who serves as First Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, have teamed up to send a message to all New Yorkers that the COVID– 19 vaccines, are safe and effective. Both the First Lady and Dr. Easterling have received their first dose of the vaccine for COVID-19. They received their vaccination shots publicly to show others their experiences.
They are on a mission to educate people about COVID–19 vaccinations and encourage more people to get vaccinated.
At the time of this writing, there remains no known cure for COVID-19, and the current vaccinations are the best-known defense against the disease.
According to public reports, women and people of color have been hit harder by COVID-19 than Whites.
Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and other Indigenous People have all been devastated by COVID-19 during this pandemic. However, Black people reportedly are contracting COVID-19 and dying of COVID -19 at a rate disproportionately higher than other minority groups.
Limited access to the COVID-19 vaccines in Black and Brown communities and a mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccines seem to be contributing to the racial disparities in the vaccination rollout. Public sentiment about the vaccines has been mixed, with many people posting their opinions on social media. Some people are eager to get vaccinated, a larger number seem hesitant and want to wait and see how other people are affected first before scheduling their vaccination appointment. Then others are firmly against getting vaccinated and plan to refuse the shot when it becomes available to them.
While people are waiting to see when they will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines and others are still trying to decide whether they will choose to get vaccinated when they become eligible, COVID-19 continues to spread, and death tolls are increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID -19 Data Tracker, as of February 14, 2021, a total of 27,417,468 cases have been reported in the United States. Of those reported cases, 482,536 deaths have been reported in the United States. Of the reported cases in the United States, 867,467 total cases have been reported for New York State, with 29,238 new reports coming into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between February 7 to February 14, 2021. Reportedly there have been a total of 669,306 COVID-19 cases in New York City, with 30,502 new cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between February 7 to February 14, 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a total of 70,057,800 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were delivered to the United States. Of that total, 52.9 million doses have already been administered. Reportedly, minority groups are getting vaccinated less often than Whites, with Blacks representing the minority group that has received the smallest number of doses.
According to recent data reports, only 5% of Blacks have received the COVID -19 vaccination.
During an exclusive interview with Caribbean American Weekly, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Dr. Torian Easterling answered questions about COVID– 19 vaccinations; members frequently ask our community.
1. How safe are the vaccines that are currently being distributed?
First Lady McCray: “I got my first shot a couple of days ago, and I feel fine.
The vaccines are safe. We know that 30,000 volunteers received their vaccines during the clinical trial, and there were no serious safety concerns.
I can’t encourage people enough to go ahead and get it if they’re eligible because we know what is happening to those who don’t get the vaccine. Our communities of color have been hit so hard. We’ve lost more people, proportionately speaking, than any other community. We need our people of color, who are eligible, to get the vaccine so that they can protect themselves, their family, and of course, not to spread it throughout the city.”
Dr Easterling: “One, I cannot agree more with Madam First Lady. The vaccines are safe and effective. Vaccines save lives. We know that they’re providing protection, the immunity against SARS-CoV-2 (also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Second, the virus that leads to COVID-19. You’ve already heard from the First Lady that we know the trials have given us science and information. I trust the science and information. I also received my first dose of the vaccine this past week.
This is Black History Month, and so I think it is essential also to reflect. We recognize that there are questions and concerns within the Black and Brown communities, so when you hear about your First Lady, about a physician such as me, getting the vaccine, this is to ensure, to increase confidence, that the vaccines are safe.”
2. What do people need to know about the different strains of the Coronavirus and the vaccines’ effectiveness in fighting them?
Dr Easterling: “We have two vaccines that are available right now. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are over 94% effective.
Now you’re asking about the variants. We do know that the variants are there. We know that viruses can mutate. We know that both vaccines are effective, they may not be as effective. They are looking at ways that they can improve effectiveness against the new variants. But the point is they are effective against the new variants. If you are eligible, you should get the vaccine because it will provide immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and will provide some protection against the variants.”
First Lady McCray: “…Some protection is better than no protection. Getting vaccinated could mean the difference between getting hospitalized or just getting flu-like symptoms. Better to have some protection and to be able to help your family and community by having that protection. This is really a terrible, terrible virus. This is not something we want to put our families through.
Getting sick is not a small thing when it comes to this virus. We encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.”
3. How would you address the concerns of people who want to be vaccinated but worry about the lack of immunization in the Black and Brown communities?
First Lady McCray: “…Supply has been an issue. But it’s increasing every week. Going forward, we can expect there will be more sites within New York City. We are opening new sites every week.
We are making sure there are vaccination sites within the hardest-hit communities, communities of color. We know that the federal government is making sure that there is more of a supply in the future. People need to know where to get information about where they can sign up and, of course, where they would like to go.
We have a Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity, which covers 30 communities now.
These communities are grouped into five different areas: health status, social inequities, and, of course, how hard COVID-19 hit them.
These are communities that we’re really, really concerned about. Communities that when we want people to get the vaccination, we will make sure there is equitable access to the vaccine.
We’re making sure there are vaccination sites in these communities. We’re partnering with community-based organizations. We’re listening and responding to community concerns and input and making sure that there’s reaching out to the elderly who may not be able to get to these sites themselves. We’re doing everything that we can. But we need people like you to get the word out about what is available to people.”
4. What assurance can you give undocumented immigrants who fear getting vaccinated due to their immigration status?
First Lady McCray: “The COVID-19 vaccines are available to people of all immigration statuses. It doesn’t matter to us. People will not be asked about it at the vaccination site, and the vaccine is provided at no cost for everyone. We want to dispel the myth that people will be tracked or that someone is going to be looking for them. This is about health. I understand the fear, but the vaccines are really to protect people and their families.”
Dr Easterling: “I totally agree, and I can add, in making sure we message that vaccines are for everyone, I think we want to be super clear and underscoring that the vaccines are for all New Yorkers. We partner with community-based organizations, particularly those that have the relationship and ties to New Yorkers who are undocumented. We’re working with them every day to help identify those who are eligible, who are also in undocumented communities. Our website, our call center – we are making sure that language access is available in multiple languages. This is something we are committed to. But we’re going above and beyond by ensuring that we have more than the ten languages we’re mandated to have.
We’re also making sure our staff at our sites speak multiple languages. When we’re in Queens, our Brooklyn sites and our Staten Island sites, we know that this is a very diverse city. We want to make sure that we have staff who can receive individuals in multiple languages.”
5. Despite reports of the growing death toll due to this pandemic, we still have people who refuse to wear face masks and plan to refuse the vaccines. What are your thoughts about the federal government making the use of face masks and COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory?
First Lady McCray: “When it comes to our public spaces, there are places now where people are not allowed unless they have a mask on. This is certainly true for anyone who wants to fly, and certainly true for people who wish to enter certain businesses or even a hospital.
You’ll have to have a mask on.
There are no government requirements for people to get vaccinated. But we are strongly encouraging people to protect themselves and their loved ones. The government does not make people get a vaccine, and we’ve always provided reasonable accommodations to people, employees who object to the vaccine on grounds related to a disability or otherwise. That’s the law. Going forward, I don’t know if that will change or not. I think there’s quite a bit of time between now and the end of the summer to see how this disease plays out in the public space.”
6. In closing, please sum up for our audience the benefits of getting vaccinated and how to make their appointment.
Dr Easterling: “Vaccines are safe and effective. Vaccines save lives. Vaccines provide immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
We need to get as many people as we can vaccinated, and since we have a limited supply, certain individuals are eligible at this time. We need to continue to message that if you are eligible, there are ways to find out if you’re eligible, and how to get an appointment.
To find out about your eligibility, you can go to our website at nyc.gov/covidvaccine.
To sign up for an appointment, there are multiple ways. You can go onto our website – vaccinefinder.nyc.gov. There we list multiple sites: our city sites, federally qualified health centers, and the state sites. There you can log on where you can schedule an appointment. Also, we do have a call center: 1-(877) VAX – 4NYC. You can speak to a Call Agent. If you speak another language, you can have an interpreter on the line as well to help you schedule an appointment. This is the way we can really help ensure that individuals in New York City are getting vaccinated. Also, the federal retail pharmacy program has come online as well. You can find out more on vaccinefinder.nyc.gov or call your local pharmacy-Rite Aid/ Costco – to find out where they are at with getting the vaccinations as well. If your provider is not vaccinating, they can also help you navigate the system as well.
Caribbean American Weekly is pleased to do our part in sharing information about COVID-19 vaccinations, on behalf of First Lady Chirlane McCray and Dr. Torian Easterling, with our audience. The information provided in this article was based mainly in part from our exclusive interview with First Lady Chirlane McCray and Dr. Torian Easterling, and public data reports accessible from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection website. We aim to provide current and accurate information. Please know that as we learn more about this disease, data changes rapidly and may differ by location. Visit www.pppradio.nyc for a podcast of this interview.