VACCINE ROLLOUT CONCERNS MUST BE ADDRESSED: City Council Member Mark Levine (left), who is chair of the council’s Health Committee, Dr. Cherisse Berry, of Bellevue Hospital and the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and Anthony Feliciano, director of the Commission for People’s Health Services, spoke about vaccine issues at a Zoom forum on January 19, 2021. The forum was co-sponsored by Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan, Uptown Progressive Action, and the 504 Democratic Club.


By Penny Mintz

On January 12, 2012, Governor Cuomo expanded the categories of people eligible to obtain the COVID vaccine. People over 65 years of age and immunocompromised people were added to the statewide pool of those entitled to get the vaccination shots. Overnight, 2,500,000 people citywide could schedule and receive the vaccine.

Problems immediately ensued.

During a public forum on January 19th, City Council Member Mark Levine, who is chair of the council’s Health Committee, discussed the two main problems. First, although there are 2,500,000 people now eligible, the city is getting only about 100,000 doses per week. Levine’s prediction that, “unless we get an unexpected delivery this week from the federal government, we’re going to have to start canceling appointments” was accurate. The supply was exhausted by Friday, January 22nd. The number of doses was increased to about 116,000 doses per week on January 26th, but that supply is still woefully inadequate.

The supply problem can be laid directly at the feet of the Trump administration. The federal government neglected to organize the production, delivery and administration of the vaccines that are so crucial to end the COVID-19 pandemic. They could have used the Defense Production Act, passed during the Korean War, to force production of the components of the vaccine, but they declined to do that. Levine calls this an “epic failure.” He is hopeful that the Biden administration can “right the ship” and “force production of the key components that are slowing down the supply chain.”

The second problem with the rollout is the broken scheduling system in New York City. “What we need is a system comparable to what you can get on a travel website, which allows for a single, unified front end for scheduling,” says Levine. “Right now you’ve got to create a new account for potentially dozens of providers and go through an eligibility screen for every one of those providers, and then only to have to go down the rabbit hole again for another one.”

This is a problem that we clearly have the technology to solve. Unfortunately, there are currently no efforts in the works to do so.

The pandemic will be behind us when about 75% of the population have received the vaccine and are therefore immune. As of this writing, about 150,000 people have received the first dose, and 52,000 have received the second dose. So 52,000 of the nearly 9,000,000 people in New York City are now immune. We are a very long way from herd immunity.

Dr. Cherisse Berry, of Bellevue Hospital and the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, explained how the vaccine works. The vaccine delivers genetic material to our bodies that overwrites the genetic codes that are already there. The mRNA in the vaccine enables our bodies to produce antibodies and immune cells that attack the spike proteins on the virus. This genetic material is a variation of vaccines that have been around for 30 years, Dr. Berry says. The particular vaccines that Pfizer and Moderna engineered to be effective against COVID-19 were tested on 70,000 healthy volunteers. “Of those, 10 percent in both studies were Black Americans. Latinx Americans were 13 percent of the Pfizer study and 20 percent of the Moderna study.”

MYTH: The vaccine contains live virus. FACT: No live virus is injected. It does not give you COVID.

MYTH: The vaccine was developed too quickly.

FACT: This type of vaccine has been around for 30 years.

According to Dr. Berry, the vaccine is “94- to 95-percent effective against clinical disease and 100% effective against severe disease,” which means that about 95 percent of those inoculated never get sick at all and about five percent experience mild illness. No one who was vaccinated became severely ill. Dr. Berry also said that the vaccine is safe for use by pregnant and breastfeeding women and by people with a history of allergies, although they must be watched for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

Despite its safety and efficacy, nearly 30% in the first group of the eligible people declined to take the vaccine.

Anthony Feliciano, director of the Commission for People’s Health Services, explained that people of color have a rational basis for their hesitancy. Among other historical atrocities, they have been victims in the Tuskegee syphilis study; women and children were victims of radiation experiments from the 1950’s up until the 1970s; and more recently, doctors in detention centers in Texas and Georgia have removed the uteruses of immigrant women. Thus, despite the fact that the highest rates of loss from COVID are found among Black and Indigenous Americans, hesitancy remains a factor.

A concern that was raised throughout the January 19th forum was access for people with disabilities. Unless they fall into the so-far-undefined category of those who are “immunocompromised,” their needs have so far been ignored. Trina Rose, who attended the forum, pointed out that people with disabilities are at risk from exposure by their home health-care providers, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Natalie DeVito raised the additional concern of those with disabilities who are eligible but would be unable to either get to a vaccine distribution site or wait on line to receive the inoculations. These are concerns that must be addressed.

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