Medical providers to bring COVID-19 vaccines directly to NYC bodega workers

The first members of the Hassebroek family are vaccinated in New York
Naomi Hassebroek receives her second COVID-19 vaccine at NYC Health+Hospitals Gotham Health Sydenham in Manhattan on March 29, 2021.
REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Further expanding efforts to get as many New Yorkers inoculated as possible, medical workers will be administering COVID-19 vaccines to bodega owners and employees right where they work, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday during a press conference at Harlem’s Mission Society.

The program will be administered by the nonprofit SOMOS to grocery stores in Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem and Staten Island, while Urban Health will provide the shots to bodegas in the Bronx through five pop-up vaccination sites.

Among the most essential workers in the COVID-19 crisis, Cuomo said, bodega owners and workers across the five boroughs played a critical role in keeping New Yorkers fed at the height of the pandemic while putting themselves at risk of sickness or death due to the contagion.

Bringing the life-saving shots directly to the bodegas through pop-up vaccination sites isn’t merely a gesture of gratitude. The governor noted that it allows the workers to be protected without having to find time in their busy schedules to go to a vaccination sites — and it helps further close the vaccine gap among communities of color.

Citing the latest statistics, Cuomo noted, that Black New Yorkers make up 27% of the city’s population, but just 19% of those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Likewise, Latino New Yorkers represent 28% of the population in the five boroughs, but 24% of those vaccinated.

“That’s not fair, that’s not equitable, and we have to do something about it,” Cuomo said. 

The bodega vaccination program is just one part of the solution to resolve the vaccine gap, the governor noted. He acknowledged that some New Yorkers of all backgrounds might be hesitant to get the vaccine despite the overwhelming evidence of its safety and effectiveness — or that immigrant New Yorkers might be intimidated by visiting a government-run vaccine site.

“We’ll make it easier and bring the vaccine tot you through somebody you trust,” Cuomo said of the program. “We’ll bring it through nonprofit, community-based health providers who you feel comfortable dealing with because you have a relationship with them. … We’ll bring it to the grocery stores, to the Latino and Black communities, through the health care providers, and you just walk up and take it.”

Speaking further about issues of vaccine hesitancy during a Q&A with the press held after the conference, Cuomo said that demand for the shots remains high in New York. He believes expanding access to the vaccine and greater public education about its benefits will help shake off the hesitancy among some.

However, the governor acknowledged that the effort won’t be easy — especially as a segment of the population continues to embrace the anti-vaxxer movement that persisted for years before COVID-19.

“You have people who don’t send their children to school because they wouldn’t agree to the vaccines,” Cuomo said. “I do believe there’s going to be an informational attack and an informational campaign, but that’s what we’re researching and looking at. But we’re not at the point where people are not making appointments. They are still making appointments, and there’s more of a supply issue than a demand [problem].”

Outdoor opening for press?

Once more, Friday’s press conference was closed to the press on site, though a number of the governor’s supporters and local advocates were in attendance at the Mission Society.

The closed events — which increased in frequency after Cuomo was caught up in nursing home and sexual harassment controversies — have been “due to COVID-19 restrictions,” according to the Governor’s office. Early on in the crisis, Cuomo regularly held court with members of the media present at his offices in Albany or Manhattan, or on location. 

Asked by a reporter when Cuomo would meet the press in person again, the governor seemed to suggest it wasn’t a big deal considering that the reporters could access him via Zoom. He did note that beginning next week, his office would be holding more outdoor events — and the press would be welcome to them.

“When we do, we’ll have more flexibility, and then we’ll have press at the press conferences,” he said.