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NY Partners With Feds To Open Vaccine Sites In Underserved Areas

People wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the University at Albany
Jesse King
People wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the University at Albany

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and officials from President Joe Biden’s administration say they will open mass COVID-19 vaccination sites in medically underserved areas, beginning in Queens and Brooklyn, and later upstate.Cuomo says the sites will open Feb. 24 in partnership with the federal government and will be placed in two locations hard hit by the virus last spring. He hopes it will result in more African American and Latino New Yorkers receiving the vaccine.

“We are pleased and happy to announce two mass vaccination sites in socially vulnerable communities, one in Queens and one in Brooklyn,” Cuomo said.  

The Queens site will be in Jamaica, a region that suffered a disproportionate amount of illness and deaths from the disease. The Brooklyn site will be at Medgar Evers College. Each will have 3,000 doses available each day, and will be limited to those who live in each borough. 

Cuomo says later on more sites will open in underserved areas in upstate New York.

In the first couple of months of the state’s vaccination program, more whites and Asian Americans have received vaccinations at a higher rate than Black and Brown New Yorkers. African Americans and Hispanics have a higher death rate from coronavirus.  

White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients, who also joined the Zoom press conference, says additional doses of the vaccines will be made available for the sites.

“We’re taking steps to increase the vaccine supply,” Zients said. “And get it out the door as fast as the manufacturers can make it.”

Earlier this week, the White House told governors that states would receive 5% more doses over the next three weeks.  

The doses are still limited to essential workers, those over 65 and those with underlying serious medical conditions.

The governor was also joined by civil rights leaders, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, National Urban League President Marc Morial and NAACP President Derrick Johnson. Reverend Sharpton says in addition to lack of vaccine access, there is also a reluctance to take the vaccine among some African Americans, due to past abuses by the nation’s medical system.

“Many in the African American community don’t trust vaccines, because of past abuses,” Sharpton said, citing the Tuskegee study, where African American men with syphilis were not offered treatment for decades so that scientists could see the effects the disease had on them,  forced sterilization of women in Puerto Rico and parts of the South, and what he says was the “disgraceful” treatment of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were taken without her permission and without compensation to develop a line of cells used widely in medical research.

“But this vaccine is different,” said Sharpton. “And everyone should take it when it’s their turn, because that’s how we get everyone back to work and see our families and friends safe and together.”  

The governor spoke on a day when infection rates continued to drop in New York, Tuesday’s numbers show a 4% positivity rate, and the hospitalization rates are also going down. 136 people in the state died of the disease.

Cuomo says because of the decline of the virus, he’ll allow large entertainment venues in New York seating over 10,000 people to reopen at 10% capacity starting Feb. 23. All attendees must show proof of a negative rapid COVID test 72 hours before the event. 

“Any large venue or arena can open,” said Cuomo, who said that includes hockey, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, music shows and performances.

The Barclay Center in Brooklyn will be the first to open, and will feature a Feb. 23 basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Sacramento Kings. 

The decision to allow large sports stadiums to reopen with limited capacity creates a conflict with mass vaccination sites in some of the venues, including in Yankee Stadium, and Citi Field, where the New York Mets play. Cuomo says he and his aides have not yet come up with a plan to resolve that, but will be working with the sports teams to figure it out. 

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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