Seniors Slip through Vax Cracks

Over 83% of seniors have yet to receive first COVID-19 Vaccine

Senior receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. He is one of a small group of seniors who have received the vaccine.

North Brooklyn community leaders are alarmed that senior citizens are being left behind in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.  “It is terrible that over 80% of COVID fatalities are seniors and they have been so-called prioritized, but yet there are huge obstacles to getting our seniors vaccinated,” said Phil Caponegro, Conselyea Street Block Association President and host to Swinging Sixties Senior Center.

“With the cold temperatures and the COVID-19, it is really unsafe for seniors like me to travel.  I feel like a prisoner.  It is unfair for seniors in North Brooklyn to not have access to vaccines in area.” Margarita Almestica, a resident from Monsignor Vetro Apartments, one of St Nicks Alliance senior housing developments. 

North Brooklyn only had two local vaccination sites before February 11

“From the beginning, a lack of local vaccination sites has been an obstacle for seniors. Those who lack online access or the tech savvy skills have been unable to register despite the growth in the availability of the vaccine,” said Juan Ramos, Executive Director of Southside United HFDC – Los Sures, which operates the David Santiago and Swinging Sixties Senior Centers in Williamsburg.  “When signing up, many seniors encountered snafus due to technical glitches with the system becoming overwhelmed for appointments.  Many seniors who are homebound do not have an email address to utilize an online system.”

“When signing up, many seniors encountered snafus due to technical glitches with the system becoming overwhelmed for appointments. Many seniors who are home bound do not have an email address to utilize an online system.”

Juan Ramos, Executive Director of Southside United HFDC – Los Sures

Community based organizations St Nicks Alliance, Southside United HFDC – Los Sures, and The People’s Firehouse have banded together to launch a campaign to vaccinate 3000 local seniors and front line workers.  According to St. Nicks Alliance Executive Director Michael Rochford, “The three organizations with long roots in community deliver a bulk of seniors services in North Brooklyn and operate an extensive network of senior housing, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), Assisted Living, senior services, and home care services. We are the trusted provider that seniors depend on for support and guidance.”

“My sister, she’s 90, hasn’t been vaccinated yet. She can’t get an appointment and probably won’t get her shot until March.”

Thomas Fletcher

Local elected leaders are helping to rectify the situation. “We have appealed to all elected officials and public agencies to assist in opening up vaccinations to our frail populations and we are making all resources and manpower available to help ensure that our seniors do not continue to get overlooked,” stated Jose Leon, Deputy Executive Director at St. Nicks Alliance.  As of Friday, February 12, through outreach from Senator Kavanagh’s office, the Governor’s office has offered to look at additional Williamsburg sites proposed by St. Nicks Alliance.  Congresswoman Maloney’s Office is working on securing a mobile station for Williamsburg to help support the need. 

“However, [vaccination appointment] registration continues to be the bottle neck. We have developed a multitier plan to set up mobile vax sites in our network of facilities, transport seniors if necessary, or bring injections to the homes and home care works of the homebound,”

St. Nicks Alliance Executive Director Michael Rochford

The NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA) offered the organizations the use of their fleet of senior buses and other vehicles to transport seniors. “However, [vaccination appointment] registration continues to be the bottle neck.  We have developed a multitier plan to set up mobile vax sites in our network of facilities, transport seniors if necessary, or bring injections to the homes and home care works of the homebound,” said Rochford. 

Data on the senior vax gap accentuates the need for action. WNYC’s Katherine Fung reported in NYC Seniors Are Still Struggling To Get Vaccinated Due To Digital Divide, that only 1 of 6 seniors in NYC had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  It’s estimated that more than 25% of seniors are without a computer or internet access.  Even for the seniors who do have digital access, the process to book an appointment is frustrating and arduous.   Each site has a form to fill out and unique methods of adding/releasing appointments.  Although it is possible to schedule appointments by phone at 877-VAX-4NYC or 877-829-4692 patience and persistence are a necessity there as well.  Many seniors who have received appointments credited the assistance received from friends and family as the reason.

“We have more than 600 elderly residents living in in St. Nicks Alliance managed buildings. Many are frail and have difficulty in getting out in the cold weather.  We try to help them sign up for vaccination appointments which can be a difficult and long process. It would be more efficient and safer for these seniors to have a mobile unit come and vaccinate all the residents in each building where they can safely come by appointment without the danger of traveling offsite,” said Frank Lang, St. Nicks Alliance Director of Housing.

“We have reached out to local medical providers and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene requesting their assistance in providing vaccination opportunities for our seniors in independent housing. We remain hopeful that as the vaccine allocation improves and ongoing advocacy for our seniors continue, opportunities will open up for onsite vaccination in our local senior centers and senior housing buildings.”

Myrna Yen, ALP Administrator for Jennings Hall

Yicong Chen of St. Nicks Alliance’s Senior Wellness Team has been busy over the Valentine’s weekend making calls to seniors at Lindsay Park to help them get registered for vaccinations. Yicong volunteered to work extra hours due to urgency. He reported, “Just a little update on the vaccines. It seems very difficult to get vaccinated at this moment. I was trying to schedule an appointment with Walgreen for a resident who is turning 65 in early March who is also a home attendant. It has no available appointment in the next three days. And I heard from a few residents that they try very hard at different providers and haven’t gotten an appointment yet.”

Senior at Jennings Hall receives his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Seniors fortunate to live in St. Nicks Alliance’s Assisted Living (ALP) at Jennings Hall had their vaccinations coordinated for them.  Jennings Hall enrolled in the CDC’s Long Term Care Facilities Plan that provides onsite COVID -19 vaccinations via CVS or Walgreens; Jennings Hall chose CVS. On February 13th most of the seniors in St. Nicks Alliance’s ALP  received their second shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.   

“Protecting those at high risk of infection, particularly those living and working in congregate settings such as ours, is our priority during this COVID-19 pandemic.   I’m grateful that through the CDC Long Term Care Pharmacy Partnership Program, we were able to ensure timely vaccination for our seniors enrolled in the ALP and the Jennings Hall staff but I’m disheartened by the federal government’s slow mobilization efforts in its rollout of vaccines to other seniors residing in the community, particularly the African-American, Latino and Asian communities,” said Myrna Yen, ALP Administrator for Jennings Hall.

Thomas Fletcher, one of the Jennings Hall ALP residents who received his second shot,  said, “I have asthma,” he conveyed his relief that the vaccine would keep him out of the additional danger that COVID-19 poses to this condition.  He continued, “My sister, she’s 90, hasn’t been vaccinated yet.  She can’t get an appointment and probably won’t get her shot until March.” His sister lives in Upstate New York.

Another receiving her second shot was Peggy Connelly. “I want to protect myself from COVID-19. I didn’t think twice about getting vaccinated,” she said.  She thinks that things will stay the same for the time being until more and more people get vaccinated, and addresses the important social well-being the vaccine will open the door for.  “[In the future when things are safer] I would love to see my family, like everyone else in here,” she said. Her family lives in Levittown and she hasn’t visited them since the start of the pandemic.

However senior residents at Jennings Hall that aren’t in ALP couldn’t participate in the CDC’s Long Term Care Facilities Plan.  One such senior commented on how she has struggled to get an appointment and then gave up as there weren’t many sites in the neighborhood.

“We have reached out to local medical providers and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene requesting their assistance in providing vaccination opportunities for our seniors in independent housing. We remain hopeful that as the vaccine allocation improves and ongoing advocacy for our seniors continue, opportunities will open up for onsite vaccination in our local senior centers and senior housing buildings,” said Yen.
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Vaccine Appointment Tips and Resources:

  • NY COVID-19 Vaccine site: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/
  • NYC Vaccination Locations:   https://vaccinefinder.nyc.gov/
  • Try signing up at different times throughout the day.   Later in the day is usually a good time as appointments are added or cancellations are noted.
  • Try Crowdsourcing sites.   NYCvaccinelist.com compiles available appointments by checking the websites of clinics, pharmacies, and other locations and Turbo Vax  lists the latest appointment availability from 43 city and state-run vaccine sites in the NYC area.
  • Teamwork.   As it can be the luck of the draw and persistence for one alone can be defeating, enlist help from friends and family to help sign you up at random times.
  • Call the Phone Number: 877-VAX-4NYC or 877-829-4692.   Although this can be just as patience wearing as trying online, but it could be an effective strategy to do both.
  • Get on the Stand-by List: vaxstandby.com.   At present this service is in its pilot stage. This service gives providers like pharmacies or clinics with leftover doses a way to reach nearby people looking to get vaccinated on a moment’s notice. Those on the list will get a text if there is a vaccination opening near them.

Author: The Greenline

Your monthly source for North Brooklyn community news covering Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. Currently 13,000 copies are distributed throughout the community free of charge.

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