Don't miss our NY Daily News op-ed on the need for New York City to strengthen its COVID-19 response, with local cases surging in the five boroughs and vaccine rates remaining lower in our city's Black neighborhoods.
This piece originally appeared at newyorkdailynews.com
Overall, 90% of New York City residents have had at least one dose of vaccine. But with omicron cases surging, and data showing that those who are vaccinated and boosted are best protected against serious illness, the rate is no cause for celebration.
Furthermore, that number doesn’t tell the full story. In some communities — like Bed-Stuy, where I live — the number hovers closer to 60%. That’s certainly a reason to be distressed for ourselves and our neighbors.
The city administration just announced it will fund a $10 million vaccine advertising campaign. At least some of that funding would be more effectively spent supporting the work of nonprofits that communities trust.
There are deep-seated reasons why the vaccination numbers are much lower in certain neighborhoods, and those reasons explain why the broader, well-funded effort to increase vaccination rates — including ad blitzes and cash and cash-equivalent giveaways — has failed in pockets across the city.
In my neighborhood, and similar neighborhoods across the city, Black and Brown people who have faced discrimination and downright abuse in the health care system and from government look at these tactics with skepticism and ask, “If this vaccine is so great, why are you paying us to get it?”
Worse yet, perhaps, is people’s rightful anger. They ask why there’s so much money to pay people to get vaccinated, but not enough money for subsidized housing or to fix their kids’ schools or their crumbling buildings.
At Brooklyn Community Foundation, where I work, we realized that long-ingrained, and earned, mistrust would make it very difficult to encourage people to get vaccinated. But we also knew that in communities of color, where people were hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, vaccination was of paramount importance.
We have funded dozens of community-based organizations, groups that have deep relationships and ties to the areas and the people they serve. These groups run outreach events, provide PPE, connect people to testing, and educate the public, including explaining new variants and translating information into native languages.
These are groups like The East New York Economic Development Corp., which makes it a point to have one-on-one conversations with people at community events. They talk to thousands of people about their individual worries, answer specific questions, and allay concerns.
The Arthur Ashe Institute is training barbers and salon staff to have deeply meaningful and personal conversations with clients about their vaccination choices and options.
And GTR in Midwood is working with clergy and individual families, garnering invitations to have deep conversations that help overcome misinformation and fear.
In each case, these nonprofit organizations, and many others like them, are doing the hard legwork that is going to get us to the last mile in the vaccination race.
Our funding is supporting the costs of events, staff time, the printing of information being disseminated and more.
But our funding alone is not enough.
New York needs to do better in the COVID-19 response, especially now as we face a fourth potentially catastrophic wave. Community-grounded nonprofit groups are the answer. As the city continues to invest in the fight against the pandemic, it should turn to these community-based providers for help.