NYC Public Advocate Williams: From Infection to Injection – A Failure of Leadership Across the Board
That which is provided on this page is a partial transcript of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ press briefing concerning local leaders’ request for an investigation by the DOJ into the COVID-19 racial disparity that’s gone on for months in NYC and NY State.
Earlier in the day during a NYC Council hearing, Council Member Mark Levine asked NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi the following:
“What are the city’s plans to fill in what you might call vaccine deserts – parts of the city where they’re underserved and where we’re seeing it in the lower rates of vaccination?”
Dr. Chokshi responded:
“Let me just clarify that this is already happening. The siting of vaccine locations. We think very deliberately and we use the same data driven approach that we have brought to all of our public health response with respect to insuring that there’s access to vaccination in the places, the communities that most warrant it. That’s reflected in the fact that the significant majority of city vaccination sites are in the neighborhoods that are designated by the task force on racial inclusion and equity. Particularly for health department sites, when we were deciding upon where to place the city vaccination hubs, that was with an eye towards those hardest hit communities as well. Health and hospitals, as you know, already has a very community based approach and is leveraging their entire infrastructure. Not just hospitals but other community based points of care to deliver vaccination as well”
“We are actively looking at places where there may be gaps. There are over 400 sites that are open to any New Yorker who is eligible and another 400 plus that are open to eligible patients or people who may be served by vaccine providers and so we do have many many points of access and the ability to stand up even more capacity quickly. Again, our limit here in being able to do that is with respect to supply.”
During the Public Advocate’s press briefing I asked if Dr. Chokshi’s response to Council Member was a reasonable one.
I admittedly only mentioned a portion of Dr. Chokshi’s response to council member Levine. Yet, what I stated encapsulated that which the doctor wished to convey.
In response, local leaders, present at the briefing gave their replies:
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams:
“Absolutely not. There is reasonableness to say that we haven’t gotten all the vaccines that we need and everyone needs to be uniform in getting their vaccine.
It is not reasonable to say that of the vaccines that we received the people in the communities who need it the most are not getting them. We have multiple sites, city and states, that no one can get to. The people who need it the most can’t figure out how to get to that. That has nothing to do with vaccinations that we actually have.
The infrastructure of the websites are 20 years old. The people who should’ve been in the room when the websites were developed weren’t there.
You have the governor and the city arguing and figuring stuff – giving out different data and different information. This has nothing to do with how many vaccines we have.
I have submitted a few times that, we know there’s some distrust in certain communities. Rightfully so btw, when we have this conversation it has to be with empathy of what these communities have known and experienced even to today in the healthcare industry.
But we just came over a pretty successful census count in those same communities. We did a phenomenal job through the pandemic. That infrastructure to educate those communities is already there. Some of this is not rocket science and you had months to figure it out.
We don’t need an additional taskforce. We know what to do. We need the resources to get it done. We had months and months and months to figure this out and we didn’t and that’s why we’re asking the DOJ to get involved and to look.
Again, there’s going to be people across the country that’s going to be signing on to this. For similar state and local responses but obviously here we’re focused on our responses. It tracked for the 12 months from infection to injection. So you can’t blame this just on not having enough vaccines. It’s failure of leadership all across the board.”
Councilmember Daneek Miller:
“Six weeks ago, long before the first vaccine was administered, the Black, Latino and Asian caucus along with some CBOs and the Brooklyn Borough President had a plan on what distribution should be like. We called for the coordination of what we have not seen as of yet. The city and state working together to make sure that these most impacted communities were prioritized. Secondly, we asked for real time data that would us when, where, how and who were being inoculated – in real time, right? It takes us week and sometimes we have to write letters to figure out who’s being vaccinated which was the same case as with who was being tested – and so, I think long before we even began the rollout we gave them the template for how it should be done considering we were the epicenter and the communities had gone through it.
Secondly, zip codes are not the answer. I think that most communities of color had the vaccines distributed to those zip codes but the cruel irony is that in the first two week rollout nearly a third of the folk had come from outside NYC. Less than 12% of the Black community and Latino community had been vaccinated and so that was disturbing.
The crueler irony is that when you step out your door and you see these lines you see people going in to be vaccinated and they aren’t your neighbors and they don’t look like you. So, just because there’s a vaccine available in a community does not guarantee that the community have access to that vaccine. Doesn’t mean that they can go online in a very sophisticated way and gain access and be able to register as others.
Then when you have a statewide database, you have folks, for us, that are coming from Long Island, coming from Westchester and other places – and folks that live around the corner can’t gain access.
We’ve devised real plans to mitigate that, as well, even when you’re talking, you’re not talking to the right people.”
Last week, we received an email that said that local community based organizations would now have access and would be able to direct some of their clients towards these pop-ups that were happening. Then when we asked for the community based organization, they weren’t community based organizations that represented the community. They may run a program in the community but they had no real footprints and no real relationship with the community.
So, once again, even with the best of intentions we’re being left out. So, I think we devised something that was a part of the resolution that we introduced and sent to the state this morning in the health committee that would resolve that. That really engages communities of color.”
Councilmember Adrienne Adams:
“There has been ample time to work with communities of color on this issue of access, on this issue of disparity in our communities. So it’s unacceptable the responses that we’re getting right now. This has not been a secret from day one. The impact of COVID-19 has not been a secret. As a matter of fact, red flags were thrown all over the place since the very beginning of this pandemic as to who was getting sick, who was getting sick quickly and who was dying quickly. So the mere fact that nothing was done – a lot of leaders in our community had to fight to get COVID testing – we’re still fighting for that by the way – and now, history is repeating itself within a year’s timeframe. We are now fighting to get vaccine and we’re hearing that communities of color are afraid of the vaccine. How would we even know that – to be able to take a thorough test or an examination of that when we don’t even have access.
So we can’t have it both ways. We cannot blame the community for not taking the vaccine if there is no vaccine equity to be had.”