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Legislator Solages calls for increased vaccine supply

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Although majority-minority communities have had consistently higher Covid-19 infection rates than majority white areas throughout the pandemic, state data shows that residents of those communities are being vaccinated at lower rates than their white counterparts.

According to data from the New York State Department of Health, 63 percent of white hospital employees across the state had received Covid-19 vaccinations as of Feb. 4, as had 74 percent of white essential workers, and 78 percent of white New Yorkers over age 65.

Only 10 percent of Black, 16 percent of Asian American and 10 percent of Latino hospital employees had been inoculated, however, and 5 percent of Black, 7 percent of Asian and 10 percent of Hispanic essential workers had received the vaccine. Minorities over age 65 fared even worse: Just 4 percent of Blacks, 8 percent of Asians and 5 percent of Latinos had been vaccinated.

In New York City, 47 percent of those who had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Feb. 7 were white, even though the city’s population is only 32 percent white, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, compared with 15 percent of Latinos and 12 percent of Blacks — who comprise 29 and 24 percent of the city’s population, respectively.

Data on how many of the more than 274,000 doses administered on Long Island were distributed to various minorities was not available as of press time, but Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages wrote in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and County Executive Laura Curran on Feb. 1 that he would not be surprised if a disproportionate amount of the vaccines the county received went to white residents. Solages noted that he had spoken to elected officials across the country, and all had reported similar trends in their communities.

“This is a serious concern,” Solages, a Democrat from Lawrence who represents Elmont, wrote, “as data last year showed that minority communities were disproportionately affected by Covid-19, making the need for Covid vaccines in minority communities even greater.”

In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-Americans were 1.4 percent more likely to contract the virus than white Americans, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2.8 percent more likely to die from it.

Studies have also shown that African-Americans are also more likely to work in essential services. In Elmont, which is 45.5 percent Black, for example, more than 1,500 residents worked in health care support services in 2018, roughly 2,000 worked in sales and more than 1,200 worked in transportation services, according to the U.S. Census.

Now, Solages wrote, many of these residents are complaining that they cannot get the vaccine, as the supply runs low. Many do not have adequate Internet access to sign up for an appointment, he told the Herald, and doctors’ offices and pharmacies are subject to a $5,000 fine if they distribute Covid vaccines without prior state authorization.

To make matters worse, Nassau County sites were given the directive to prioritize essential workers in their scheduling, and those over age 65 must get their vaccines at a limited number of pharmacies that are authorized to distribute them, Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, the Nassau County health commissioner, said at a public hearing on the matter on Feb. 4.

“If we really wanted to get this done, we’d get a czar to fix these inefficiencies and inequities,” Solages said, adding that if he were in charge of the national distribution program, he would have the Federal Communications Commission suspend all fees for people trying to make vaccination appointments online. “There has to be a robust supply and distribution.”

The state receives a certain amount of doses from the federal government each week, Solages explained, but New York has been supplied with enough doses to meet the demand. There are currently about 7 million New Yorkers eligible to receive the vaccine, and starting next Monday, those with co-morbidities — who Cuomo said account for 94 percent of the state’s Covid-related deaths — will also be eligible.

“We’re committed to vaccinating vulnerable populations that have suffered the most as we distribute a strictly limited supply of vaccines,” the governor said at a news conference last week, after also announcing that the state was “running out of supply each week before getting the next week’s allocation.”

“New York has distributors at the ready that can greatly expand the number of people we’re vaccinating every week,” Cuomo said. “We just need the vaccines themselves to make that happen.”

The federal government vowed to increase the state’s weekly supply by more than 20 percent over the next three weeks, but New York’s large population of eligible people would still exceed that supply.

When the state does finally receive enough doses to meet the demand, Solages said, he is “very confident … our community will get a distribution site,” perhaps at the Emanuel Baptist Church, in Elmont, or Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital, because Northwell Health officials — who are working with the state to distribute the vaccines on Long Island — recognize the need for a site in these majority-minority areas. “We cannot allow any community to not have access to the vaccine,” Solages added.