Exploring the effect of vaccine rollout policies especially among the Caribbean and African Americans on the outcome of the city council candidate’s selection.
By Linda Nwoke
Under the leadership of President Joe Biden, the federal government committed to promoting equity in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. His plan would ensure that all underserved communities and undocumented immigrants can access the Covid-19 vaccine without fear of deportation. As of April 19, all New Yorkers aged 16 onwards are eligible for getting vaccinated regardless of occupation or underlying health condition.
To a large extent, the vaccine distribution expansion to more significant population segments is gradually unfolding to meet the new mandate of getting as many people as possible vaccinated. Thus, most adults of all ages across the country are becoming eligible to get the vaccine. Extraordinary measures address the disparities and promote equitable access to the vaccine across the board regardless of immigration status – Americans, non-citizen Americans, and undocumented immigrants. As it becomes glaring, ensuring that all people have access to the vaccine will foster the country’s recovery from the pandemic. A high vaccination rate across communities will increase the likelihood of herd immunity.
Failure to commit to implementing the policy through targeted efforts in reaching non-citizen or undocumented immigrants will mean that the over 20 million non-citizen immigrants, who function as essential workers, will be at risk. And this will prolong the already negative impact across economic, psychological, and physical challenges associated with the pandemic.
Vaccination Plans and Immigrants
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory board on immunization practices suggested, and the federal government authorized the rollout among priority groups. States applied discretion in determining their prioritization and distribution plans.
By the end of the Phase 1a rollout, over 7% of the workforce got vaccinated, consisting of healthcare, essential, and food production workers, including some immigrants.
Potential Barriers to Vaccination among Immigrants
However, as the rollout expanded, it became complicated. Several factors were standing as barriers in preventing non-citizen and undocumented immigrants from accessing the vaccine. Barriers included lack of health insurance, cost, language barrier, lack of documentation, fear of repatriation, literacy, lack of work flexibility to childcare demand.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, in December 2020, shared his concerns about the request from the federal government to send information on vaccination, which he feels will deter undocumented immigrants from accessing vaccinations. Although, his concerns became overshadowed by the challenges of getting adequate vaccine supply allocation to meet the state’s demand.
Since then, through the American Rescue Plan, the federal government provided resources to mitigate some of these barriers, such as providing the vaccine at no cost for the uninsured regardless of immigration status. In New York, several campaigns encouraging people to get vaccinated at the vaccine sites without fear that they need to prove their legal status is in place.
Vaccine Rollout among people of color/black community
Despite all the assurances, data shows that communities of color, despite bearing the brunt of the pandemic and the efforts made so far are yet to embrace the vaccine rollout at a rate commensurate to the level of devastation experienced as a community. According to a New York Times analysis report, vaccination uptake among Blacks and Hispanics is significantly lower than white people, and public health experts are calling for a need to change the pattern.
According to Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, “People of color are getting vaccinated at rates below their representation of the general population, this narrative can be changed. It must be changed. “says the chair of the COVID-19 Equity Task Force.
According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, it gathers data on health-related rates among people of different ethnic groups. As of March, Black people in New York represented about 16% of the state’s population and accounted for 23% of Covid-19 deaths. Still, they had only received 8% of the shots. Hispanics make up over 15% of the population, and 20% of Covid deaths had only received less than 10% of the vaccine. Meanwhile, White people account for more than 60% of the population and recorded only over 35% of deaths. Still, they have received more than 80% of vaccinations, with a slight increase but significant gaps according to an analysis done by the foundation and shown below:
Unfortunately, logistics appears to be at the heart of the challenge. For instance, most Blacks and Hispanic people are less likely to have access to a reliable and stable internet, strong enough to book an online appointment to get vaccinated. The absence of information about the vaccine from trusted providers, having flexible work schedules that will accommodate any available vaccination appointment opening. Also, having dependable means of transportation to vaccine sites is one of the identified factors creating lethargy and unwillingness to be vaccinated, not to mention false beliefs.
COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout and New York City Council
There are efforts at the State level to address some of these issues, such as seen in New York. Policies are being enacted to support executive decisions to increase vaccine rollout. In New York City, the City Council is responsible for raising and debating bills to address these concerns from community members.
The New York city council comprises representatives for the 51 districts who serve community members by presenting their concerns and working with other representatives in resolving the issues. Presently, there are over 30 seats to be replaced by members facing term limits. Special elections have been held now and then; however, most of the positions will be replaced by June 2021 through the ranked candidate voting system.
Over the past months, they have held meetings to pass legislation on pertinent issues related to addressing the challenges on COVID 19 vaccine rollout among people of color. One of the bills introduced on aging, aimed at creating a Vaccination plan for homebound seniors, was sponsored by Council Member Mark Treyger, representing the 47th District- including places like Bensonhurst, Coney Island, through Sea Gate.
The bill is to set up and report on the plan for COVID-19 vaccination of homebound seniors for COVID-19. It addresses the challenges faced by elderly adults who fear crowded or busy spaces because of COVID, especially the homebound senior citizens. According to him,” Those who need the most help must be prioritized in the government’s vaccine distribution play. This law will provide fair access to healthcare services and equity in the distribution of the vaccine so that our most vulnerable residents are not left behind….”.
Keith Powers, Council Member representing District 4, is a member of the health committee. In addressing the challenges of getting an appointment for taking the vaccine, he introduced a program known as “Your Shot.” According to him, “There has been frustration regarding the speed and efficiency of vaccine distribution, as well as the eligibility criteria. I want to ensure that you have updated information…”.
All hands are on deck towards a successful COVID 19 vaccine rollout. Raised concerns and challenges experienced by community members are being addressed, albeit at a slow rate. Members of the community, especially the Black and Hispanic communities, must become more involved in ensuring that their voices are well heard and continue to clamor for the change they desire until it becomes a reality. Please get involved in selecting who represents you at the City Council; it is as important as deciding who becomes the next Mayor of New York City.
Your voice is countless unheard voices.