By Sam Bojarski | Sam@haitiantimes.com

Brooklyn residents like Maryan Dumas, who received a vaccine on March 10 at Medgar Evers College, are still reporting difficulties scheduling an appointment online. 

“The system crashed on me, maybe two or three times,” Dumas, a school counselor who resides in East Flatbush, said as she walked out of the vaccination site at 231 Crown St. with her grandmother. 

After finally booking an appointment, the process became a lot more convenient. “It was kind of clunky, but after you get through it and it gets done, they at least send you emails to remind you [of your appointment],” Dumas said. 

Thirty-five percent of New York City adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. But the rollout has been uneven, with certain neighborhoods, largely in central and eastern Brooklyn, lagging behind. 

Citywide, data from the New York City Department of Health shows disparities in vaccine access, by race and geography. Haitian-Americans in Brooklyn say trust in the vaccine is improving, but scheduling difficulties and a lack of vaccine sites remain a barrier.

Vaccine uptake in Brooklyn

In Brooklyn, vaccination rates among the Black and Latino populations both stood at 8%, while 15% of all Brooklyn adults have received at least one dose. 

Haitian-American strongholds fell in the middle for vaccination rates across the borough as of March 10. Flatbush and East Flatbush zip codes 11226 and 11203, respectively, had vaccination rates of 12.7% and 13.9%. Zip code 11236 in Canarsie reported 11.9% of adults vaccinated.

The highest vaccination rates, of 24% and 23% respectively, were in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. Neighborhoods like East New York and Brownsville reported the lowest rates, with some zip codes reporting just under 10% of adults vaccinated.

Motivated by a desire to see friends and family, vaccine hesitancy among the senior population has gradually diminished this year, said Shirley Paul, a Canarsie-based attorney and candidate for District 46 on the city council. 

While the city’s vaccine finder website has proven difficult to navigate, Paul said she has encouraged local seniors to call and make an appointment. 

“Since they’ve provided a phone number and now that there’s locations specifically for Brooklyn, it’s been a little easier,” Paul said. 

The Medgar Evers site, run by New York State and the federal government, was initially restricted to certain zip codes. It opened to all eligible Brooklyn residents on March 1. Eligible residents can call 1-833-697-4829 to schedule an appointment. 

Expanding vaccine access in Haitian neighborhoods

In February, Haitian nonprofit leaders addressed the importance of bringing the vaccines into a trusted, culturally sensitive setting. 

Haitian Americans United for Progress (HAUP), a social services organization with offices in Brooklyn and Queens, applied through the city to become a vaccine administration site. To date, HAUP had not heard back on the application’s status, Executive Director Elsie Saint Louis said.

But as the federal vaccine supply increases, government authorities plan to bring the vaccines to more community sites. New York State will establish temporary vaccination sites at 33 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) senior housing developments, as well as over 300 churches and cultural centers. 

In addition, 10 mass vaccination sites, including one in the Bronx, will open in the coming weeks, the state announced on March 8. 

“Thanks to increasing vaccine supply from our partners in Washington, we can utilize more of our state’s capacity to distribute doses,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “These new sites will allow us to continue to get shots into arms on a large scale.” 

The state has yet to announce a complete list of community vaccination sites. Faith leaders can request on-site distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines by filling out a House of Worship vaccination form

Involving the clergy can build further trust in the vaccine, particularly among older Haitians, community leaders have said

“They trust their pastors and church communities, to give them a lot of information about demystifying things they might have heard,” said Paul. “I think having the clergy partnership is helpful.” 

New York City’s Vaccine Finder website lists about a dozen pharmacies and health centers in Flatbush and East Flatbush offering vaccine appointments. 

Bringing the vaccine into more community sites, like educational institutions, could expand access for area residents, said Dumas, who noted that existing sites have been hard to reach for some. 

“You could walk to your vaccine location instead of it being like, ‘you’ve got to take mass transit,’” Dumas said. 

As states prepare for a surge in vaccine supply, opening up new community locations looks more and more feasible. 

“There should be more access, totally,” Dumas said. “I feel like it’s doable, and also then it could possibly give individuals jobs.”

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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