According to numbers from the CDC, at least 11.5% of the adult population in the United States have received at least one dose of either of the two COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA. But according to numbers from the NYC Department of Health, in the zip codes surrounding Bushwick, the numbers hover closer to 3 and 4%.
Like everything else related to the last year of the ongoing pandemic, the stream of vaccination numbers — suddenly presented by the city in a remarkably effective map form — tell a familiar story of everyday disparity. Vaccination rates in a nearby zip code like 11237 sit plaintively at 4%, while numbers in the Upper West Side and Upper East Side coast safely about 10%. Unfortunately this appears to be the opposite of how the virus works: according to the city’s handy neighborhood data profiles, one can quickly find out that “One out of every 16 people in 11237 has been diagnosed with COVID-19,” so far. (The numbers in the greatly-vaccinated 10024 sit at “one out of every 29.”)
The struggle to vaccinate Bushwick is not without some trying — early in January, the city had opened one of its first “vaccination hubs” at the Bushwick Educational Campus and reports had pleasantly followed of socially distanced crowds ‘patiently awaiting their turn’ on Irving Avenue. But supply issues soon began to dodge the campus: late last month, the hub was among the dozen in the city that were forced to temporarily shutter because of a sudden shot shortage. (affected hubs included three others in Brooklyn, another four in Queens but only two in Manhattan.)
That these hubs are repeatedly beset by supply shortages — another one struck the first weekend of February too — no doubt confound their initially noble purpose. According to City Council’s health committee chair Mark Levine, the hubs were deliberately placed in “communities of color” in order to forestall the very concerns about racial disparities in the vaccination roll out that had been predicted late last year. Barely a month into the vaccination campaign, Mayor Bill de Blasio had already admitted defeat: “What we see is a particularly pronounced reality of many more people from white communities getting vaccinations than folks from black and Latino communities,” he said while announcing more demographic data on the rollout.
More often, however, it’s everyday failures of organization which are leading to wasted vaccines: a story last month in New York reported of one vaccination site in Bushwick that discovered, last month, it had scheduled a total of seven appointments on a day the site had was equipped with at least 500 doses. The burden had fallen, instead, on community groups to schedule vaccinations instead, who appear to still be doing that.
According to the Instagram page for the mutual aid network Bed Stuy Strong, another nearby vaccination hub — Canarsie High School — suddenly had at least 200 available vaccination slots yesterday, which the group had endeavored to fill with anyone in the surrounding neighborhood 65 years of age or older. Another proactive solution, in recent weeks, has been found in the Twitter account @turbovax, which is literally a bot account that sends out notifications for every time a vaccination center has available appointments. Earlier this month, its messages about openings at the Bushwick hub led to at least some of the vaccinations getting used.
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