In recent weeks, state leaders including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul have insisted New York will distribute its supply of COVID vaccine with community health equity in mind. Leaders in Buffalo’s Black community speak of the need to build trust in the drug, and in the healthcare system. While the general attitude toward the vaccine seems more positive within the Latino community, those serving it say there's a lot to be desired with the current distribution system.
Among the criticisms coming from local doctors is what they say is the state's failure to deliver on its promise of maintaining equity.
"I don't think that data supports that their plan has worked,” said Dr. Myron Glick, founder and chief executive officer of Jericho Road Community Health Center. "I do think that New York State has made some pretty significant mistakes in the first, what is it now, almost two months of this vaccine rollout. If you look at the data, the whole issue of vaccine, equity... the vaccine isn't at this point, really, getting to the most vulnerable in an equitable fashion.”
Faith in the vaccine itself? At least 350 doses were distributed last week at the Belle Center on Maryland Street in Buffalo's West Side, one of five local pop-up clinics sponsored by the state.
"That gave us a real good feeling in the Latino community, as long as you know the vaccinations are available," said Casimiro Rodriguez, founder of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York. "The confidence level to get vaccinated is high."
There is still a need, though, to educate the public about the vaccine, including separation of facts from online misinformation.
"There's a lot of mistrust, in a sense, because they don't understand the vaccine. You know, all this fake news and ‘infertility’ and ‘Bell's Palsy’ and, you name it, it does everything," said Dr. Raul Vazquez, who heads Urban Family Practice on Niagara Street. "But as you start to instruct people on this vaccine, really there's not much in the vaccine. It's an amino acid component with a little lipid sort of cover. And that's what triggers the immune response tricking the body. Once you start to explain that to individuals, I think they begin to understand.”
As for distribution and the state's promise to emphasize equity? That's where faith wanes.
"I see them trying. The problem is that you've got a disconnected model," Dr. Vazquez said. "The federal government, during the Trump administration, was doing their own thing, and the state was doing another. Now with Biden we still have that division. It's starting to get better. But you still have these task forces, and I sit on a couple of task forces that are there. You're hearing messages here, and then I get more information from the newspaper.
"I get more from that than I do from some of these committees, which is crazy."
Dr. Glick suggests the federal government set vaccine distribution policy which is enforced uniformly throughout all 50 states. He also says doses need to be delivered directly to pharmacies and doctors in underserved neighborhoods.
“One of the reasons I pushed so hard for primary care providers and doctors and nurse practitioners and PAs for our offices to get the vaccine on a regular basis, is because we have the trust of the population," he said. "Probably, we're one of the best people to actually break down that hesitancy and actually get people vaccinated who might otherwise just put it off.”