SOMOS, Cuomo team up to boost COVID-19 vaccine delivery in communities of color

Coronavirus vaccination site at NYCHA housing complex in Brooklyn
Henry R. Munoz III, co-founder of SOMOS, is joined by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as he speaks to reporters during a news conference at a COVID-19 pop-up vaccination site in William Reid Apartments in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., January 23, 2021. Mary Altaffer/Pool via REUTERS

In yet another closed-to-the-press public event, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday another program aimed at expanding COVID-19 vaccine access to communities of color.

The nonprofit SOMOS will be using its network of more than 2,500 medical professionals, including doctors and pharmacists, to deliver a million vaccine doses to the Black and Latino communities they serve. Additional pop-up vaccination sites — including the New Settlement Community Center in the Bronx, where Cuomo held the March 26 gathering — will also be established.

Cuomo said the state, through an “unprecedented network,” will directly provide SOMOS with the vaccines for distribution in areas hardest hit since the pandemic first struck New York last March.

“We have the weapon that wins the war. We have the weapon that kills the enemy, but it has to be here,” Cuomo said. “It has to be put in the arms.” 

Vaccine equity continues to be a struggle for New York state. Cuomo again pointed out that Black and Latinos died at twice and 1 1/2 times, respectively, the number of deaths among whites during the pandemic. Yet with the vaccine in New York City, far too few people of color have had the chance to be inoculated.

Whites make up 53% of New York City’s population, Cuomo said, but also 55% of all city residents who have been vaccinated to date. By contrast, Black residents comprise 27% of the city’s population but only 19% of those vaccinated, and Hispanic residents comprise 28% of the population but 22% of the number vaccinated.

That’s where SOMOS comes into play. As the nonprofit’s cofounder, Henry Muñoz, described, the group has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic from the beginning — its members sacrificing themselves to get tests and assistance to where it was most needed.

“We went to the epicenter of the virus and we brought he people’s voices with us and we translated this disease in 3 languages,” Muñoz said. “We did away with the need to present ID for those of us who have citizenship issues. We created sites for people who don’t have money for cars or taxis. We set up in churches, community centers, parking lots, and before you knew it, SOMOS had tested hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.” 

As the economic crisis set in, SOMOS went further in its outreach, Muñoz noted, providing 2 million meals to hungry New Yorkers. Teams of SOMOS volunteers also traveled to Texas, Florida and Georgia to help assist their peers in responding to the pandemic.

Now, Muñoz said, SOMOS is stepping up again.

“It’s a moment when the vaccine finally will come to the people, to the neighborhoods, to the trusted family doctor in the clinic down the street, the way it has always been,” he said, “because a person in our community is used to going to the family doctor to get themselves and their children vaccinated.”

“The moment is now here for us to deliver esperanza (hope) to the people,” Muñoz added.

In addition to the new vaccination effort, Cuomo also announced the opening of the new Hurricane Maria Memorial in Manhattan’s Battery Park City. The memorial honors those lost during the Category 5 storm that ravaged the island of Puerto Rico in 2017, as well as the strong bond between the commonwealth and New York state.

“From that memorial, you see the Statue of Liberty. It is [on] New York harbor, and it’s our way of once again memorializing all of our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters who came to New York and joined the New York family,” the governor added.