Low-income elderly residents will be vaccinated where they live

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“We are ready to go,” said Jovan Cruz, the director of operations for Mohawk Ambulance, on Wednesday. “All of our equipment is in place … We should be receiving our first allocation today, which will be on the road tomorrow, initiating our mobile vaccine program.”

ALBANY COUNTY — Concern has been growing nationwide that members of Black, brown, and poor communities are not getting their fair share of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo had voiced this concern since before the vaccine was available and set up a state task force to help deal with inequities.

“Any local government that needs help in providing social-equity efforts, let us know,” Cuomo said on Friday. “There’s two issues on social equity. People have to have access — poor communities, Black community, Latino community. And they have to accept it and get past the vaccine hesitancy, which we are seeing and it is a very real issue.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced 35 community-based pop-up vaccination sites statewide, with three of them in Albany: at South Mall Towers, Townsend Park Homes, and Westview Homes. Mohawk Ambulance will be giving the vaccines.

In early January, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy had announced that Mohawk Ambulance, a private service, would work with the city of Albany and the county to vaccinate elderly residents in their homes.

On Wednesday, Jovan Cruz, the director of operations for Mohawk Ambulance, said, “We are ready to go. All of our equipment is in place … We should be receiving our first allocation today, which will be on the road tomorrow, initiating our mobile vaccine program.”

The first batch, he said, will be used in Albany County and Albany city housing projects. The goal, Cruz said, is to reach “the low-income population that does not have the ability to travel, that are kind of stuck in their homes.”

The company is using lists of residents 65 and older compiled by the city and county.

So far, Mohawk Ambulance has invested about $100,000 in the project, Cruz said, equipping trailers with freezers that will safely store the vaccine doses from Moderna and from Pfizer and BioNTech, which need to be ultra-cool.

The company is looking forward to expanding the program as more vaccine doses become available.. Mohawk has hired an additional 50 people to staff the program, Cruz said, and has “25 to 50 in the queue” for additional pop-up clinics.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said the county is “trying to target our community of color” for vaccination and added, “So far, I think we’re starting to do a better job.”

Signing up for vaccinations online “may not be for everyone,” Whalen said, so there is outreach to the Black and brown communities.

“We know education is going to continue to be very important,” said Whalen, adding, “We still have a ways to go with education.”

Cruz said that Mohawk will be going “door-to-door on the ground” at the housing complexes. “We’re inside the building,” he said, adding, “We’ve acknowledged the issue and are starting to work on it.”

McCoy said, “There’s a lot of seniors that have not gone out … They’ve been home for almost a year, which is sad. They’re afraid to leave the house. They just want to get the shot ... they just don’t have transportation or don’t want to get on a bus … or in someone’s car because they’re afraid of getting COVID-19.”

Albany County, McCoy said, has 55,000 residents over the age of 65, all of whom would be eligible for vaccination.

With Mohawk’s trailers, which can each hold 8,000 vaccine doses, McCoy said, “Now we’re coming to you.”



Two out of five New Yorkers are hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine, Cuomo told reporters during a phone call Sunday.

“That is not good,” he said. “Remember, we have to get 70 to 90 percent, 75 to 85 percent vaccinated.”

The poll was conducted by the Association for a Better New York, a not-for-profit coalition of business, labor, and political leaders encouraging growth in New York City.

Cuomo said that “virtually all hospital workers have been offered the vaccine.” Seventy percent of hospital workers statewide are white, he said, and 63 percent took the vaccine.

Eight percent are Latinos and they are 10 percent of the hospital workers who took the vaccine. Eleven percent of hospital workers are Asian Americans and they are 16 percent of the people who took the vaccine, said Cuomo.

“Asians are over performing, if you will, by percentage. Latinos are over performing by percentage,” said Cuomo. However, he went on, 17 percent of hospital workers statewide are Black but only 10 percent of hospital workers who took the vaccine were Black.

Some of the hospital workers declined to give their ethnicity.

Cuomo said the state’s social equity vaccine force is focusing on both accessibility and acceptance. He noted a New York State panel reviewed and approved the two vaccines approved by the federal government in case New Yorkers were skeptical of the Trump administration.

In early January, Cuomo had said he himself would not get vaccinated for COVID-19 until the vaccine is available to people in his same age group in Black, Hispanic, and poor communities in New York State.

He made the pledge both in recorded remarks to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City and in a conversation with Rev. Al Shsrpton on MNBC’s Politics Nation. 

“I understand the cynicism and skepticism; it is not without cause,” Cuomo said to the Baptist congregation.“The Tuskegee experiment is a terrible stain on the soul of this nation.”

He was referencing a study by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Public Health Service, from 1932 to 1972, in which African-American men were told they were getting free health care when, in fact, they were being used — without being told — as part of a study on untreated syphilis.

“The system does have biases and injustices. But that is not true in the case of this vaccine,” said Cuomo in January.

On Friday, Cuomo said that the state is launching an advertising campaign targeted to Black New Yorkers to build trust.

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