SOMOS physicians and volunteer nurses from Elderplan opened a temporary COVID-19 vacation site within the belly of a Brooklyn church on Wednesday.
On Feb. 3, God’s Battalion of Prayer Church—located at 661 Linden Blvd.—hosted a vaccination drive to help inoculate approximately 500 seniors from around the area. Although those arriving to get immunized came with appointments, wait times lasted well over an hour for some due to space and social distancing restrictions.
Bundled up in coats and hoods, individuals shivered as they waited on a line that wrapped completely around the house of worship. Despite vaccine shortages and inclement weather causing several vaccination sites to close this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that New York City has expanded eligibility requirements to also include restaurant workers and taxi drivers.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel—who have been pushing for vaccination equity for months now—were slated to join the SOMOS doctors earlier in the morning to discuss their efforts on reaching diverse and underserved communities.
“We are seeing a clear pattern in our vaccination distribution, with New Yorkers of color being vaccinated at lower rates than White New Yorkers across age groups. We are also seeing many shots going to people who live outside the city. As I have said from the beginning of this process, the way we ensure an equitable distribution is by mobilizing credible messengers, which includes members of our faith community, to spread the word about the vaccine and connect those in the most need. Herd immunity can’t be for select communities—it must be universal. The new partnership between SOMOS and Elderplan at God’s Battalion of Prayer Church is a model for how we engage on-the-ground organizations to reach at-risk populations. I thank them for their partnership,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told amNewYork Metro.
Following the site’s celebratory christening where various medical officials from SOMOS and Elderplan spoke regarding their excitement to serve the community, the vaccination process got immediately underway. Akin to a well-oiled machine, patients were swiftly given the jab before being instructed to recover in a rest area for 15 minutes. Although the procedure was a hectic one, staff took the time to speak on the gratitude they feel when it comes to serving their community.
“SOMOS is an association that connects 2,500 doctors in low-income and underserved communities. We are trying to get the vaccine to our patients. Not everybody is willing to facilitate their space and their location in order for us to do this. We were lucky that the God’s Battalion Church allowed us to use their location. This is a community that has been very affected by COVID, and also in terms of mortality, so we are excited we are able to get the vaccine to the community,” Dr. Jacqueline Delmont, a SOMOS physician told amNewYork.
Delmont shared that the elderly population, who have been a primary focal point through the entire vaccination process, have a difficult time when it comes to traveling across the city. Therefore, she believes it is imperative SOMOS is capable of providing seniors with vaccine hubs closer to underserved communities.
“At the end of the day everybody is entitled to the vaccine. If they are within the age range, but of course what we are taking into consideration is the social determinants. These are people that have financial constraints, that have mobility constraints, that have language barriers, and then there is the trust factor. It’s ideal to be able to bring the vaccine closer to them so that we can explain it in their language. They see people that look like them, it’s a much more intimate setting. The fear is lessened by the fact that there is a familiarity with the people administering the vaccine,” Delmont said.
The vaccination drive at God’s Battalion of Prayer Church was originally scheduled for Monday; however, the blizzard caused many distribution sites to temporarily close at the beginning of the week, which was then rescheduled for Wednesday. For nurses volunteering their time from Elderplan, Wednesday couldn’t come soon enough.
For Dora Odigie, an Elderplan Registered Nurse, the impact of the COVID-19 virus hit close to home, like it has for many New Yorkers. Odigie’s close friends have passed away due to complications brought about by the novel coronavirus. This unfortunate loss of life prompted Odigie to donate her time in hopes of preventing others from feeling her pain.
“This is for my community. I am very excited and I’m happy. I’m one of those who decided to volunteer when SOMOS reached out to us. I was going to sign up because I really wanted to vaccinate my community. This virus is deadly. I’ve lost so many loved ones, I even lost my best friend’s mother. This was just, for me, a great opportunity just to vaccinate people to be safe,” said Odigie, becoming overwhelmed with emotion.
Those on the other end of the spectrum—individuals receiving the vaccine—were also ecstatic to be there. J’dranka Delik has been seeking out the opportunity to obtain her first dose. The online process had been a difficult one, so resting up at having her injection one week before her 67th birthday was the best gift she had ever had.
“Me and my husband were trying for weeks and weeks every day. Even in the middle of the night. My husband would wake up and go and check if there was any opening, and this we got just last week. This is the best birthday present!,” Delik said.
In addition to scouring the internet to obtain an appointment, Delik shared that when she finally found an opening she was under pressure to complete the registration within an allotted three minute timeframe. At God’s Battalion Church, Delik waited about 45 minutes before receiving her shot. Delik shared that the vaccination was just like the flu shot, and wants others to know that there really shouldn’t be a debate on whether to receive it or not.
“Is it better to get sick and die or have your arm hurt for 15 minutes? It’s ridiculous,” Delik said.
Vaccinations were distributed throughout the day at God’s Battalion of Prayer Church from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
“We need more doses to get more shots in arms that need them. With that supply and with the support of city & state leadership, faith leaders like Reverend Dr. Cockfield, and nurses like those with us today from Elderplan, our network has the potential to reach over 1 million high-need, at-risk New Yorkers in a month and bring equity to our city’s vaccination program – and relief to the city,” said SOMOS Community Chairman Dr. Ramon Tallaj.