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New York partners with feds to open vaccine sites in underserved areas


Gov. Andrew Cuomo and officials from President Joe Biden’s administration announced Wednesday that they will open mass vaccination sites in medically underserved areas, beginning in Queens and Brooklyn, and later opening ones upstate.  

Cuomo said the sites will open Feb. 24 in partnership with the federal government and will be placed in two locations hit hard by the virus last spring. He hopes it will result in more African American and Latino New Yorkers receiving the vaccine.

“We are pleased and happy to announce two mass vaccination sites in socially vulnerable communities, one in Queens and one in Brooklyn,” Cuomo said.  

The Queens site will be in Jamaica, a region that suffered a disproportionate amount of illness and deaths from the disease.  The Brooklyn site will be at Medgar Evers College.  Each will have 3,000 doses available each day and will be limited to those who live in each borough. 

Cuomo said more sites will open later in underserved areas in upstate New York.

In the first couple of months of the state’s vaccination program, whites and Asian Americans have received vaccinations at a higher rate than Black and brown New Yorkers. African Americans and Hispanics have a higher death rate from coronavirus.  

White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients, who also joined the Zoom news conference, said additional doses of the vaccines will be made available for the sites.

“We’re taking steps to increase the vaccine supply,” Zients said. “And get it out the door as fast as the manufacturers can make it.”

Earlier this week, the White House told governors that states would receive 5% more doses over the next three weeks. The doses are still limited to essential workers, those over 65 and those with serious underlying medical conditions.

The governor was also joined by civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, National Urban League President Marc Morial and NAACP President Derrick Johnson. Sharpton said in addition to the lack of vaccine access, there’s some reluctance among some African Americans to take the vaccine because of past abuses by the nation’s medical system.

“Many in the African American community don’t trust vaccines because of past abuses,” Sharpton said, citing the Tuskegee Study, where African American men with syphilis were not offered treatment for decades so that scientists could see the effects the disease had on them; forced sterilization of women in Puerto Rico and parts of the South; and what he says was the “disgraceful” treatment of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were taken without her permission and without compensation to develop a line of cells used widely in medical research.

“But this vaccine is different,” said Sharpton. “And everyone should take it when it’s their turn, because that’s how we get everyone back to work and see our families and friends safely together.” 

The governor spoke on a day when infection rates continued to drop in New York. Tuesday’s numbers showed a 4% positivity rate, and the hospitalization rates are also going down. There were 136 people in the state who died of the disease.

Cuomo said because of the decline of the virus, he’ll allow entertainment venues in New York seating over 10,000 people to reopen at 10% capacity starting Feb. 23. All attendees must show proof of a negative rapid coronavirus test 72 hours before the event. 

“Any large stadium or arena can open,” said Cuomo, who added that includes hockey, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, music shows and performances.

The Barclay Center in Brooklyn will be the first to open with a Feb. 23 basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Sacramento Kings. 

The decision to allow large sports stadiums to reopen with limited capacity creates a conflict with mass vaccination sites now running in some of the venues, including in Yankee Stadium, and in Citi Field, where the New York Mets play.

Cuomo said he and his aides have not yet come up with a plan to resolve that, but they’ll be working with the sports teams to figure it out.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.