City Council Members blasted the slow rollout of COVID vaccinations, the confusing process to schedule appointments and the lack of vaccination sites in hard-hit neighborhoods during a sometimes-contentious hearing Jan. 12.
Mayor de Blasio set a target of administering 1 million vaccinations by the end of the month, and said he hoped that 400,000 doses would be administered each week. As of Jan. 12, a total of 239,324 doses had been injected. About 2 million city residents were under phases 1a and 1b, the groups eligible so far to receive the vaccine.
'Big, But Reachable'
“We have set big, ambitious goals. They will be difficult, certainly, but I do think we can reach them,” city Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said.
“We know we're not going to meet our goals. That’s a given," City Council Member Helen Rosenthal said. “We’re in a health-freaking crisis. I don’t see the sense of urgency. I don't see management on high alert to fix these problems.”
The Council Members demanded to know why vaccine efforts were taking so long to ramp up. Although there were over 125 vaccination sites, the city has only recently opened sites that operate 24/7.
“We all knew for at least eight months that a vaccine was coming. We knew that millions of people had to be vaccinated. Why are we just now figuring out where and how to distribute it?” asked Council Member Carlina Rivera, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Hospitals.
Contributing to the challenges was the fact that the city was also facing a shortage of vaccine supply. So far, the city has received 793,675 doses, not enough to meet its goal for this month. Deliveries have also been inconsistent—Dr. Chokshi stated that some weeks the city has gotten 100,000 doses, while other times it's gotten more than 200,000.
No Notice on Deliveries
David Rich, the executive vice president of government affairs at the Greater New York Hospital Association, said that health-care facilities often don’t find out they’re getting a delivery of the vaccine “until it shows up on the loading dock. So that has been a problem for trying to schedule appointments.”
The Council also pushed for an easier system to schedule a vaccination appointment after hearing about the difficulties people are facing. There were multiple websites that people could use to make an appointment—one for Health + Hospitals sites, another for vaccine sites run by the Health Department, and one for the vaccination hubs—which has caused “massive confusion,” Council Member Adrienne Adams said.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to create a system that will pre-register residents and let them know when they are eligible for the vaccine, but Dr. Chokshi admitted that there was no unified system to schedule appointments.
The Council Members were also frustrated by the lack of language access: a phone line that allowed people to schedule appointments was only available in English and Spanish.
'An Incredible Disservice'
Between the confusing onboarding process and the language barrier, “we are doing an incredible disservice to our citizens across the board in communities of color,” Ms. Adams said.
Several Council Members pushed for vaccination sites to open in the neighborhoods that were hardest-hit by the virus. Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods were disproportionately affected by COVID.
During the hearing, the New York State Nurses Association commended the vaccination hubs launched by the Health Department, but cautioned that they were understaffed.
NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane said that on Jan. 11 she volunteered at one of the hubs, Hillcrest High School in Queens, which she called “extraordinary.”
“Everything was set up so that the vaccinators could just keep vaccinating,” she said.
But she worried that the hubs, which were staffed by both Health Department employees and volunteers, needed reinforcements.
Want Feds to Assist
“A lot of the vaccination stations were set up for two vaccinators and I was at a station by myself,” she said. “It’s a great program but it does require a lot of staff.”
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, the president of NYSNA, called for more Federal support to not only boost staff, but to add permanent clinicians.
“While volunteers are always welcome, they cannot be the main source of personnel,” she said.
Both Ms. Kane and Ms. Sheridan-Gonzalez added that it was “difficult” to navigate the process to volunteer to become a vaccinator. Volunteers were trained through the city’s Medical Reserve Corps.
“We really have to have a coordinating body, and I do think it should be the public system,” Ms. Sheridan-Gonzalez stated.
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