New York City’s Newest COVID Vaccine Site Opens With Rocky Start, As Hardest Hit Communities Still Struggle To Get Appointments

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City’s newest COVID vaccine site was created to address racial disparities, but its grand opening was met with major problems Wednesday.

When home health aid and East New York resident Evette Reid found out about the new site opening close to home, she was elated. But now, she’s just late.

“I reached here early to get my shot and go to work. Now, I’m late for work and didn’t get my shot,” she told CBS2’s John Dias.

Reid was one of many left waiting in the cold outside Teachers Preparatory High School in Brownsville and then turn away.

WEB EXTRA: COVID Vaccine Data By Zip Code

Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s press conference on Tuesday indicated the site would open at 8 a.m. Wednesday, but it never did. By 9 a.m., it didn’t even have signage up. It finally opened at 10 a.m. with long lines.

A spokesperson for the mayor said this was a “miscommunication error.” But there was another issue — most people didn’t know they needed an appointment.

Watch Mayor De Blasio’s Daily COVID Briefing —

The site is for residents in the immediate neighborhood and was created to address racial disparities when it comes to vaccine distribution and accessibility. New statistics show the hardest-hit neighborhoods have the fewest number of vaccinations.

“There has been this narrative about vaccine hesitation, and that is true. But I do not think that is the overriding reason,” Thande Shange said.

Shange, of Brownsville, said the city should have learned from the testing problems seen last year.

“They should have seen this coming,” she said. “It’s, ‘Oh, it’s a terrible thing, and Black people don’t want to get the vaccine,’ but you haven’t set up access.”

COVID VACCINE

On Wednesday, the mayor said the city overhauled its vaccine website to make it easier for people to understand.

“Now available in 10 languages,” he said. “We are asking all the vaccination providers to use our site so that more and more things get centralized and simplified.”

“Not only build this new platform, make it easier to schedule, but then get all of the providers throughout the city on it,” said Jessica Tisch, commissioner of the Department of Information Technology.

The website will provide appointments to city- and state-run sites and also some private providers.

In addition to the hotline, the city has enlisted community organizations to help make appointments, CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas reports.

“We cannot release appointments until we actually have vaccine doses in hand,” health commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said.

The City Council also met to discuss ways of streamlining the appointment system.

“We need an army of staff, especially from community-based organizations, on the ground in communities making appointments, including by going door-to-door,” said Councilman Mark Levine.

Another new vaccine site is scheduled to open Thursday on Staten Island for residents of that borough only.

Watch John Dias’ report —

De Blasio also warned supply was an issue Wednesday. He said the city had fewer than 30,000 first doses on hand, and could run out by Thursday.

He says bad weather across the country is causing shipment delays, but once the city gets enough doses, the process of making an appointment will be much smoother.

“We’re going to have to hold back appointments that New Yorkers need because the vaccine isn’t arriving,” de Blasio said.

These appointments are hard to come by.

“The vaccine finder, that for me is no good. It didn’t work for me, so I did 311. I did 311 at 2 o’clock this morning, and I got my appointment for today,” one woman said.

“Many of the challenges of access and equity in our city’s vaccination program are not merely the result of supply shortages,” Levine said. “But the result of maddeningly confusing and difficult systems for making appointments.”

Councilwoman Margaret Chin says vaccine supply is only a temporary issue. She asked if the city was even prepared to use senior centers as vaccination sites and properly address the concerns of homebound seniors.

“We just don’t see the concrete plan in place,” she said.

“There is a plan in place. Is the plan as widespread as we would want it to be for older adults? We’re working on that every day,” said
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging.

“When you take care of the most vulnerable, everybody benefits,” Shange said.

It’s a race against the virus that’s already claimed so many lives.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

CBS2’s John Dias and Aundrea Cline-Thomas contributed to this report.

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