By Arthur Schwartz
On January 14, at 2:30 a.m., I got a needle full of the Moderna vaccine stuck into my arm.
It wasn’t easy to get that done. As soon as I heard that Governor Cuomo had opened the vaccine to people over 65, I got on the internet trying to make an appointment. For three hours I filled in computer forms put up by different agencies, at least seven in all. Not one had an appointment available—and I looked as far out as June. Then I started calling locations listed on some NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene site—pharmacies, urgent care clinics, hospitals. Not one call got me an appointment.
I was beside myself. Mentally I had been prepared to wait until mid to late February or even March for a shot. But when the age was lowered to 65, I leapt at the opportunity. Like everyone reading this, I have lived in dread of COVID for over 10 months. I am 67. I have had a heart attack. Forget about being a City Council candidate—I have had limited time with my adult daughter and my 99-year-old mom. Work revolves around my tiny “home office.” But the chance that I might get vaccinated in January soon became a bad dream.
Then I read on a neighborhood blog called Nextdoor that the Health Department, at 125 Worth Street, was taking walk-ins. So on January 14th I went at 8 a.m.; I was told “no walk-ins.” I came back at 6 p.m.; “no walk-ins.” I shared my experience on the blog, and was advised to try again at 2 a.m. I did, and I walked right in! Four nurses were sitting without people to vaccinate. I got it, I got no reaction, and shot 2 is scheduled for February 11—my birthday!
But I am angry.
We have no political leadership on this life-and-death issue. We are getting used to death and disease, but COVID is still a killer which can be wiped out.
Cory Johnson, our City Council Member, says he is “depressed.” So he is off attending classes at Columbia and has said nothing about the vaccine. OUR City Council Member should have been organizing vaccination points all over the district—in empty stores or at schools that no one is going to. OUR City Council Member—and his staff—should have been screaming loudly for you and me. And you know who else Cory forgot? Seniors who are housebound, or maybe not so savvy with roundabout website signups. People with disabilities who may not be 65, but who are immuno-suppressed (like folks with HIV/AIDS), or who have serious diabetes, kidney disease, or heart or lung disease aren’t being addressed. Why isn’t he looking out for these people?
And our Mayor? The Citywide effort should have been gigantic. He could have vaccinated 2000 emergency medical personnel in December and then deployed them everywhere in January. Everywhere means hundreds of sites, with lots of sites open to walk-in, like when you get a flu shot.
Vaccines for 9-11 Heros!
As if the vaccine rollout wasn’t bad enough, the surviving first responders whose health was compromised by the 9-11 attack, aren’t being cared for. The World Trade Center Medical Advisory Committee has looked at the pandemic statistics and has concluded that WTC first responders are at a significantly higher risk for COVID-19 complications. 32,000 of the 80,000 first responders and survivors who have enrolled in the WTC Health Program are under 65, and don’t have access to the COVID-19 vaccine unless they are police, fire, EMS, or transit workers. Over 70 percent of the first-responders in the program suffer from more than one certified WTC cancer or condition. We all need the vaccine. But these heros need it even more. For them to have been left out is wrong. Governor Cuomo must open the vaccine to these heros now!
Our Governor? He gets a “D” on the rollout. He changes the rules every day. He had months to set up a massive rollout statewide. But he now seems lost. On January 15, 2021 he admitted that his plan to vaccinate New Yorkers was failing. Doses of the vaccine had been sitting in the freezer for weeks, with some tossed out altogether, due to overly restrictive rules about who was eligible to be vaccinated, and harsh punishments for medical providers who vaccinated an ineligible person.
What are the numbers? As of January 21st, the State (according to the City Health Department) had received 1,004,675 doses. But only 539,618 had been administered as first or second doses. Of that, 119,150 have been set aside for the federal program under which CVS and Walgreens are vaccinating residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Another 25,350 are for NYS-run vaccination sites like the one at the Javits Convention Center. That leaves us 320,557. As of the 21st, 232,485 doses were being saved for second doses. That left 88,000 doses; with the City expected to administer 30,000 per day, the Mayor had the City cancel thousands of appointments.
THIS IS RIDICULOUS!
Even with stepped-up delivery from the Biden Administration, the City and State’s system of distribution shows no sign of being able to keep us safe. And for our readers under 65, that means months of angst—hoping to get vaccinated, not knowing when, hoping to not catch the new “variant..”
If I were your City Council Member, I would be out there every day—yelling, organizing, setting up sites—and fighting to expand availability, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nothing could be more important!
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and a candidate for City Council from District 3–Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hells Kitchen.