NEW YORK (AP) – If there is one place where people could fear the coronavirus more than a vaccination needle, it is the Far Rockaway section of Queens: Nearly 460 residents of the seaside district have died from COVID- 19.
That’s one in 146 people who live there, making it one of New York’s highest death rates. And yet, no other place in the city has a lower percentage of people vaccinated.
As of Monday, only 29% of people living with the Far Rockaway zip code of 11691 had received even a single dose of the vaccine, according to data from the New York City Department of Health. This compares to a rate of 49% city-wide and nationwide.
The situation in the community of about 67,000 people illustrates the challenges facing health officials in many places as they attempt to overcome reluctance fueled by mistrust, misinformation and fear.
“We have a good number of people who still don’t want to be vaccinated, for whatever reason,” said Diana Catalan, a health clinic manager involved in Far Rockaway’s vaccination effort whose father , a local resident, died of the virus in February.
Some people want to wait a few months to see how vaccinated friends and family react to the vaccines, she said. Some have heard unfounded conspiracy theories that the vaccine is dangerous. Others feel no urgency, having escaped severe damage so far.
Catalan said she was eager to get her father vaccinated at the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, where she works. But he caught the virus before the vaccine was available to people in his age group. He was 62 years old.
“He was very young and he had no chronic illness,” Catalan said. “He was nothing but a hard working man.”
More than an hour by subway from Manhattan, Far Rockaway sits between a bay and a strip of urban beach at the eastern end of the Queens Waterfront, below the flight path of nearby Kennedy Airport.
Like many places where immunization rates lag, the majority of residents are black and Hispanic. Among some black Americans, there is a documented mistrust of the medical establishment and government due to a history of discriminatory treatment.
“People are naturally going to be afraid of anything the medical community has to offer, especially because of what we’ve seen through healthcare and what it’s been like for disadvantaged low-income black and brown communities. in the state, ”Khaleel Anderson, a member of the state assembly who represents the region explained.
For some Latinos, delaying the vaccine often depends on logistics, such as work schedules or fear of the negative consequences of immigration. Part of the neighborhood is also home to a community of Orthodox Jews, a group that, like white evangelical Christians, is also more skeptical about vaccines.
Originally developed in the 19th century as a seaside community, Far Rockaway is today poorer than most parts of the city, a mix of social housing, beachfront apartment towers, and suburban-style single-family homes. , all physically isolated. Its inoculation rate contrasts sharply with the situation a few miles west of Breezy Point, a whiter and richer section of the Rockaway Peninsula where 75% of people received their first dose.
“Far Rockaway is still the forgotten community,” said Michelle Chester, who grew up in the neighborhood and also administered the very first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the state.
Local officials initially said limited access to vaccination sites was one of the factors contributing to the low numbers, although in May there were at least four places people could get vaccinated within 8 kilometers. squares that make up Far Rockaway. A large state-run mass vaccination site is also a few metro stops away, at the Aqueduct racetrack.
Still, Chester, who no longer lives in Far Rockaway but visits his mother on weekends, said in early May that while there are convenient sites “this information is not reaching the community.”
The city opened a new vaccination center near the neighborhood in April, hoping to improve access.
“Having the site permanent is really helping us move in the right direction,” Anderson said, but argued that residents’ reluctance is driven by being “genuinely concerned.”
Misinformation has complicated vaccination efforts, especially among residents who doubt how quickly the vaccine was made.
Marimar Alvarado, 24, has decided not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, along with the rest of his family. In Spanish, she called the vaccine the “mark of the beast,” a disturbing sign in the New Testament book of Revelation, signaling the end of times. The theory of marginal conspiracy has spread among some Christians.
Somer Saleh, a family therapist at the New Horizon Counseling Center in Far Rockaway, said she noticed, among her clients who were hesitant to get vaccinated, that there was “misinformation about what the actual vaccine contains” and “Savage conspiracy theories”.
In the Jewish community of Far Rockaway, some women are afraid of getting the vaccine because of denied claims that the vaccine affects fertility, said Moshe Brandsdorfer, executive director of the Rockaway Peninsula Jewish Community Council, who provides vaccine education through online outreach. He also noted that those who already had COVID-19 don’t really feel the “need” to be vaccinated.
People without legal status in the United States are also afraid of getting the vaccine because they are reluctant to give out personal information, local health workers told The Associated Press. Johnson & Johnson’s brief single-dose hiatus, as health officials considered a potential link to rare blood clots, also turned people away, they said.
Progress is underway. The Far Rockaway branch of the Addabbo center vaccinates between 30 and 80 people per day. Earlier this month, it started offering supplemental immunization slots on weekends, which is “useful in capturing working class people who can’t afford to take off on a weekday,” he said. Anderson said. Addabbo sees the results of the weekend sessions. In a single weekend in mid-May, more than 200 people received the vaccine at the clinic’s Far Rockaway site.
Angelita Ramos, a 47-year-old Spanish teacher, recently received her second Moderna jab. She initially delayed the vaccination.
“I was scared,” she says. “To be honest, I said, ‘Let me see how this will work.’”
Ramos said seeing other teachers get the shot convinced her to get the shot.
Elva Rosario, 79, also received her second dose recently, saying she often passed near the vaccination site but did not think the vaccine was needed as she had never been infected.
Rosario said she was not afraid of COVID-19, saying that at her age the virus “hits you like a stone”.
In parts of New York City, the city hired people to go door-to-door to promote the photos. The state and city have also offered incentives, ranging from free fries at the Shake Shack to a week of free subway rides. To truly increase immunization rates, personalized outreach in the community is needed, said Miriam Vega, CEO of Addabbo.
“This last group of people that we want to reach to achieve collective immunity is going to take a lot of work,” she said.
Things like ads alone won’t do.
“It’s the individual human interaction that matters,” she says.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards agreed.
In a tight-knit community like Far Rockaway, “if they don’t see their neighbor getting vaccinated,” he says, “they don’t get it.”