New COVID-19 vaccine hub opens in Harlem as state struggles to gain more shots

Photo by Dean Moses

Even with supplies depleting, the latest COVID-19 vaccine hub in the city opened on Sunday: a pop-up vaccination site in Harlem operated by New York state and the nonprofit SOMOS Community Care.

The basement of Abyssinian Baptist Church has now been transformed into a makeshift, specialized vaccine hub run by SOMOS Community Care, a physician-led network of doctors who work within low-income areas and communities of color.

By establishing this care facility within a trusted community center led by local medical practitioners, it is hoped that individuals from the area will feel more comfortable receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and, in turn, have greater effects on the virus relief efforts. 

In order to celebrate this latest endeavor in fighting the novel coronavirus on 132 W 138th Street, elected officials, members of Governor Cuomo’s Equity Distribution Task Force, and SOMOS representatives spoke about the location’s importance on Jan. 17th.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Special Advisor for Policy and Community Affairs, is an appointed member of Cuomo’s Task Force.

“This is the largest governmental operation in our lifetime and under Governor Cuomo‘s direction, New Yorkers are stepping up to get our community and our neighbors vaccinated,” Hassell-Thompson said.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Special Advisor for Policy and Community Affairs speaks about the newest hub in Harlem. Photo by Dean Moses

Abyssinian Baptist Church is just one of dozens of pop-up vaccination sites that will be opening throughout New York State.  Hassell-Thompson’s says that similar vaccine hubs will be replicated at other churches throughout the city in an effort to reduce vaccine barriers, ensuring equitable distribution to the hardest hit communities.

“These sites are a significant step toward ensuring every New Yorker has equitable access to the vaccine. We’re going to need all hands on deck to make this operation is a success,” Hassell-Thompson added.

As the state eligibility guidelines expand, Cuomo’s administration have stressed the need for more vaccine doses from the federal government. The sheer number of New York states now eligible for the vaccine (such as frontline medical workers, first responders, essential workers, seniors 65 and older, and immunocompromised individuals) is well over 7 million, and the current dispersal of 250,000 to 300,000 doses per week will not be enough, warns Hassell-Thompson.

With the help of SOMOS Community Care, physicians are able to work in dozens of communities at various vaccination hubs to facilitate distribution, allowing for a wider reach in access, especially for low-income and communities of color. 

While access to the vaccines are increasing, so are the fears of rapidly depleting supplies. 

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was also in attendance at the opening, and she emphasized that the work SOMOS is conducting is truly helping communities in need. She referenced a recent vaccination hub she visited at a NYCHA site, where SOMOS doctors were distributing the vaccine within a senior center there. The need was apparent as she saw dozens of individuals lining up eager to receive their first dose.

“I feel strongly that when you have an organization taking place at NYCHA, where people don’t have to travel, and they feel comfortable in their senior center and you have an organization that the governor has worked with coming from the community, it makes a big difference. People feel that they’re going someplace where they’re going to be cared for,” Brewer said.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was also in attendance at the opening. Photo by Dean Moses

As this new focal point in the battle against COVID-19 has been settled within his grounds, Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church stressed that faith-based organizations are additionally accountable to be on the front line of defense on behalf of their communities, offering aid, comfort, and support.

Butts was thankful for his church being chosen as a hub and acknowledged that this outreach effort is the perfect way to salute Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Monday.

Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church. Photo by Dean Moses

“Celebration of the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, there’s no greater way to show the strength of the beloved community than by having us all work together from all backgrounds, all races, all creeds, and all work together in order to meet a very serious challenge in our nation today and in our world,” Butts said.

Approximately 300,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, and in New York alone about 35,000 people have perished.

Yolanda Méndez prepares works with the vaccine prior to patient arrivals. Photo by Dean Moses