Putting a COVID-19 vaccine site in an otherwise underserved neighborhood and giving residents of disadvantaged city ZIP codes a head start on making appointments is only part of equity in vaccine distribution.
The other part is making sure the people for whom the site is intended are aware of it and fully able to benefit.
“The site itself is a focus and intention on equity and access,” Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the city’s Department of Recreation and Human Services said during an online news conference March 1.
But numerous challenges potentially undercut why the state and federal governments set up a vaccination site at the former Kodak Hawkeye facility, 1345 St. Paul St., starting March 3.
Appointments are required, and for a week they could be made only by residents in certain city ZIP codes. The city and community organizations helped get out the word, and residents are being encouraged to call 311 for help signing up. Libraries in the city and the R-centers also are able to help residents with the website am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov. People also can call (833) 697-4829 for an appointment.
Volunteers have gone door-to-door to leave information about how to sign up for an appointment and the help available for people without internet access.
However, with two days left before the appointments opened up to everyone, 11,000 residents signed up. The concern is that once the site opens to anyone eligible, residents who most need that city site may be shut out of the remaining 17,000 appointments.
Lyman-Torres said the fact that fewer than half the appointments have been filled by the city residents in the target ZIP codes means there hasn’t been enough time to explain the process to residents and answer questions about the vaccine.
Mayor Lovely Warren recently said she wanted city residents to have at least three weeks to make appointments. Lyman-Torres said the city hadn’t heard whether the state will extend that time or keep to its plan of opening registration on March 4.
Lyman-Torres said the issue is not vaccine hesitancy. She said city residents want the vaccine. 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.
“Those are some of the equity issues that have not been clearly addressed,” she said.
Transportation can be a problem, although RTS has suspended fares on Route 35 St. Paul from March 3 to May 3, when the vaccine site is expected to be open. However, riders still have to pay to get to and from the transit center to catch the Route 35 bus.