Marcia Debose had COVID-19 in November.
“Lord knows, I don’t want to catch the COVID again,” she said.
And she doesn’t want her husband, Larry, to risk contracting the illness.
The Rochester couple received their first doses of vaccine at former Kodak Hawkeye site on St. Paul Street. Larry Debose got his on March 2, during a soft opening held to make sure the site ran smoothly.
Marcia Debose received hers on March 3, the first full day of at least a month for the site, which is being run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The experience was nice,” she said. “It was fast, and I’m a screamer for needles and I didn’t even have to scream.”
Larry Debose said some adjustments had been made in the day after his appointment, as the process seemed to go faster. “That’s nicer for the public. You get through, get in and get out.”
Vaccinations are being given in a large weatherproof, heated tent set up in the parking lot at St. Paul Street and Avenue E. The site was set up to give priority to city residents in underserved ZIP codes, and those individuals had a week’s head start on making appointments. People unable to use the state website can call 311 or go to a city library to get help.
As of March 4, appointments are open to anyone who meets the state’s eligibility requirements.
Mayor Lovely Warren wanted city residents to have three weeks to make appointments before people from other parts of the area could get on the schedule. As of March 3, a decision had not been announced. An extension seemed unlikely as mailings sent to city residents said appointments would open on March 4 to anyone eligible.
The site is on a bus line, and RTS is providing free rides through May 3 on Route 35 St. Paul Street. Walk-ins can be scheduled, however, they may not be able to get the vaccine at that moment and they may not get a same-day or same-week appointment.
The Hawkeye site was set up to provide equity, but that can’t be measured only by location.
As of March 1, fewer than half of the 28,000 appointments available for the month had been made by residents in the targeted ZIP codes.
Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the city’s Department of Recreation and Human Services, said there has not been enough time from when the site was announced to when it opened to explain the process to residents and answer questions about the vaccine.
Lyman-Torres said at a news conference March 1 that the issue wasn’t vaccine hesitancy. She said confusion around the eligibility criteria, use of the medical term comorbidity and not understanding what health conditions would qualify a person for vaccine are barriers. So, too, are language differences and inability to navigate the state website to make an appointment.
It’s not known when the state, which is helping FEMA with the site, will release data on the number of Blacks and Latinos who are being vaccinated. As of March 3, the Department of Health’s website has not posted ZIP-code data on minorities who are vaccinated. It did make some data available after the Democrat and Chronicle insisted, and the city shared the results.
Instead, the state posts a percentage of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and whites as a percentage of all eligible people in the region. As of Feb. 28 in the Finger Lakes region, 4.8% of Blacks and 3% of Latinos had at least one dose.
Without the specific racial and ethnic data, it can be difficult to know if the site is meeting the objective of serving communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19.
“We have to have the data, we have to be transparent and we have to show people that there is real progress being made,” said Aqua Porter, executive director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. “We have to earn that trust. And there are so many times in the past, and currently, where there isn’t trust and there aren’t numbers and the transparency isn’t there, that I understand why people are skeptical and they should be, and they should push back to make sure that the numbers are available. I think the lack of numbers or the lack of why there aren’t numbers makes people even more skeptical.”
Marcia Debose said she had thoughts about not getting the vaccine, then she considered the risks and benefits.
“No one has a cure for the flu and we still get a flu shot every year,” she said. “That’s what got me going. I had some serious anxiety till today. I was like, I’m ready. Let’s go, let’s get it done.”
Larry Debose also expressed reluctance. “But then I started weighing it out and it’s better to have the shot than not have it. Your body can build up antibodies to the virus so if you do get it, there’s more of a chance you make it through with the vaccine.”