Expanded vaccine eligibility means new opportunities and new challenges

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EAST HARLEM, Manhattan — On the streets of the predominantly Latino neighborhood of East Harlem, getting the COVID-19 vaccine into people’s arms continues to be the “boots on the ground” work of community health organizations.

And following the surprise announcement made Monday by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding expanded vaccine eligibility, these community leaders have an even larger task on their hands.

On Tuesday, all New Yorkers 30 years of age and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Then, on April 6th, everyone in New York 16 and over will be eligible to get the shot.

With expanded eligibility comes the added challenge of ensuring there’s enough vaccine to go around.

Arturo Perez, CEO of the East Harlem Council for Human Services, operates the Boriken Neighborhood Health Center.

He said because the Boriken Health Center meets federal qualifications set by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, he will soon be able to ease his reliance on local and state supply resources and instead deal directly with the Biden Administration.

“That’s going to make a tremendous difference for us, because we will have a consistent and reliable supply of vaccine available to us on a regular basis,” he said.

Expanded eligibility, along with more federal help, puts New York on pace to beat President Joe Biden’s May 1 deadline for universal vaccine eligibility.

Still, getting to everyone — regardless of race or ethnicity —  remains a challenge.

New York City’s latest data shows white adults are vaccinated at twice the rate of Black, Latino, and Asian New Yorkers.

Additionally, Dr. Monique Hedmann-Maxey of Hip-Hop Public Health said achieving more equitable vaccine access must remain a top priority now that teenagers are about to enter the eligibility pool.

“Another barrier, particularly for young adults getting the vaccine, is the people feel that ‘I’m young and healthy,'” she said. “We have to approach this, not from a me perspective, but from a we perspective — for the good of our communities and for the good of our families and those around us.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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