By Carol Tannenhauser
The anxiety of the moment—leaving politics aside—is about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. It is the topic on everyone’s mind, and it is generating more questions than answers.
“During the first wave, I used to feel comfort when Cuomo spoke every day and told us what was going on,” said 73-year-old, long-time Upper West Sider Lynne Ross. “I had a sense that he not only had a handle on it, but he was giving us truthful information. I don’t have that sense now.”
The lack of clear and consistent information about the rollout is adding to the anxiety, particularly among elders, an Upper West Side psychologist, who is 83, told us. “On one hand, we feel relieved, because we know the end is in sight,” said Dorothy Cantor, “but they keep moving the finish line! All this vagueness leaves people with a terrible sense of uncertainty, and that raises anxiety.”
The Upper West Side has one of the largest concentrations of people over 65 in the city, with about 37,000 as of 2015, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer. Elders are especially concerned with getting the vaccine for two essential reasons.
“If I get COVID, I will die, in all likelihood,” Cantor said. “I had a heart attack three years ago and that, plus my age, makes me extremely vulnerable. I don’t want to die! I’ve got a lot to do in life.”
“I want to see my children!” said Renay Roberts, 78, who lives in Lincoln Towers. “They’re out West and I haven’t see them in over a year. We are waiting patiently, and we think we know where we are in line, but we want to know when we will be contacted, where we will be going to receive the vaccine, and we’ve gotten nothing! We’ve been in the house for a long time, doing everything we’re supposed to, and we haven’t seen our families or friends. We’d just like some information.”
With tensions this high, conversations about the vaccine can venture into speculation — and possibly misinformation.
“A few of my friends in Fla had the vaccine,” Ellen Schwartz, 74, texted. “They say Trump is giving more to Fla supporters. I don’t believe it. I think NY just can’t get organized.”
What happened to New York exceptionalism? Who’s in charge? Why are we hearing that vaccines are sitting in hospital freezers, undistributed?
News has just begun trickling out in the past day or so, as it became clear that New York was distributing the vaccine at a glacial pace. Just on Tuesday, city officials said that people 75 and over are likely to get the vaccine in the next round, probably starting in February. And those 65 and above will get it a bit later — probably starting in March and April.
WSR contacted the NYC Department of Health, City Councilmembers Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, and Borough President Gale Brewer for more answers about how seniors will be notified, and when they can expect to get the shots. For instance — what if people don’t have a primary care doctor or use clinics or practices where they may see several health care professionals? What if they’re not comfortable navigating the Internet?
Rosenthal also said that “The oldest seniors will hopefully start to receive vaccinations in February — younger seniors will hopefully be vaccinated in March/April.” Levine has not responded but he will hold a town hall on Thursday at 4:30 to talk about the rollout. You can sign up here. He put out a Q&A with information. Some of the key points are below. (To access the links in the document, click through to the original here.)
Stringer, who is running for mayor, has also released recommendations for a speedier rollout, which include creating a “standby list” of at-risk people who can be called if vaccine doses are left over during each phase.
Brewer responded with a lengthy email, acknowledging “the glacial pace of vaccine distribution” and offering what she has, namely, more links and a summary of everything [she] knows about the rollout, “particularly with regards to eligibility, notification, and distribution.”
The state has launched a new ‘Am I Eligible’ app to help New Yorkers determine their eligibility, connect them with administration centers, and schedule appointments. To access the app, as well as find the latest information concerning the vaccine and its administration, click here.
As of Monday, January 4, additional health care workers and other frontline staff are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Eligible individuals can schedule an appointment to get vaccinated by contacting their affiliate (health care) network or employer. Eligible individuals will have to fill out a screening form and attest to being in an eligible category with proof of employment. Seniors, including homebound seniors, are expected to be eligible for the vaccine in mid-January, in the next phase.
It’s important to remind your readers that if they’re not eligible for vaccination, they shouldn’t sign up for an appointment. We need everyone to wait until they are eligible. The City’s vaccine site, found here, will continue to update this information regularly, including updated eligibility information, and vaccine distribution locations.
In New York City, our office is told that there are 125 vaccination sites now, there should be 165 by end of week and more than 250 by end of month. The goal is to have sites operating 24/7 but certainly lots more on weekends.
The eligibility categories and timeline is on both State and City web sites I linked to earlier – ultimately the decision about who is eligible when is a State decision. The plan for seniors (particularly those who do not use the internet) is to use existing infrastructure to get the word out – senior centers, visiting nurse networks, etc. Once they become eligible, community leaders, institutions, and elected officials are going to notify all and help them make appointments. Right now, everyone is doing appointment only — and the city tells us this seems the best way since then paperwork can be done in advance and will prevent long lines, which would be difficult for seniors. School nurses are scheduled for vaccination during phase 1a, which is the phase we are in right now. This is all school nurses – public and private schools. Freelance (unaffiliated) health care workers (like doulas and family practitioners) are eligible starting today — they can go to DOHMH sites and there will be an additional five access points starting Wednesday. This weekend, there will be “hubs” – they are city-run sites that will be doing large numbers of vaccinations.
WSR will keep you up-to-date as circumstances change. Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to call your primary care or other doctor and ask her or him your status. Some may even be administering the vaccine in their offices.