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Cuomo: Trust An Issue Among African Americans In Vaccine Rollout

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a briefing Feb. 1, 2021.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a briefing Feb. 1, 2021.

The winter storm caused COVID-19 vaccination sites in New York to close downstate, but others upstate remained open Monday. Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a briefing, blamed the federal government for ongoing glitches in the state’s vaccine rollout.The state’s vaccination program continues to be plagued by problems, and new data from New York City shows that communities of color are receiving the vaccination at lower rates than whites.

Of the 300,000 or so city residents who were vaccinated and who answered a question about their race, 48% were white, 15 percent were Latino and 11 percent were Black. 29 percent of New York City residents are Hispanic, and 24 percent are African American.

Cuomo says preliminary state data shows that the trend holds for hospital workers who were offered vaccinations in December and January. Cuomo says of the 70 percent of hospital workers statewide who are white, 63 percent took the vaccine.  Latinos, who make up 8 percent of the total hospital workers, made up 10 percent of the employees who received the shot. Asian-Americans, who are 11 percent of the health care workers, represented 16 percent of those taking the vaccine. But Black hospital workers, who are 17 percent of the total statewide health care workforce, took the vaccine at a rate of just 10 percent. Cuomo says he believes part of the issue is distrust of the vaccine, and the government telling workers to take it.

“The declination rate among Blacks in hospital settings where they are hospital workers, is much, much higher than it is among whites or Latinos or Asians,” Cuomo said. “So we know that there is a real distrust issue.”

The governor says he’s reached out to African-American led churches and is setting up vaccine pop-up sites at public housing and at community centers to encourage more people to sign up for the vaccine. He says the state will soon begin an advertising campaign that specifically targets Black New Yorkers to build more trust.

Many seniors, who are eligible to receive vaccinations, have been unable to navigate complex web sites to schedule appointments. The governor says the state has a hotline number to schedule appointments by phone. The number is: 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).

Cuomo says at the root of the frustrations, is that there just are not enough doses of the vaccine.

“I get it,” said Cuomo. “That is a situation created by the federal government initially, and it is a national problem and an international problem, that there is just not enough vaccine.”

Cuomo inadvertently created some confusion, when he announced in the briefing that all of the state’s vaccination sites would be closed Monday due to the major winter storm affecting a large portion of the country. His chief of staff later clarified on Twitter that only the downstate centers were closed, and that upstate ones remained open.

The state’s hotline call center also seemed confused about the status of the vaccination sites. During a call to the hotline, a worker said the vaccination site at the State University of New York at Albany was closed Monday, due to snow. However, SUNY Albany and the other upstate sites were indeed open.

Those who have appointments at centers that close due to the storm will receive new appointments by email or text. 

Monday afternoon, Cuomo issued a press release saying state-run sites in Albany, Binghamton, Plattsburgh, Potsdam, Utica, Syracuse and Rochester would open with a delayed start at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Appointments that were scheduled before 10 a.m. at these sites will be rescheduled for later in the day.

Downstate sites at SUNY Stony Brook, Jones Beach, Aqueduct Racetrack, the Javits Center and the Westchester County Center will be closed Tuesday.

The Buffalo University site will be open regular hours with no change to scheduled appointments.

During his Monday briefing, Cuomo did not address a report in the New York Times that said nine top officials in the state’s health department quit since the summer, claiming that the governor was ignoring their expertise on key health policy decisions during the pandemic, including how to efficiently vaccinate the state’s population. The resignations include the deputy commissioner for public health, the state epidemiologist, and the medical director for epidemiology and the director of the bureau of communicable disease control.

In a statement, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker suggested that the top officials who left were perhaps not up to handling the increased demands of their jobs during COVID. He says the “intense period of extraordinary stress and pressure” during the pandemic may have meant that is was a “different job” than some signed up for.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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