Flora Pérez, a produce vendor in Queens, has been trying for weeks to get a vaccine appointment for her 82-year-old father.
“It’s really, really hard — none are available,” Pérez, 58, said as she wrapped tomatillos in plastic bags at her stand in the Corona neighborhood. She does not have time to spend hours online or calling the state’s hotline, she said, so she and her siblings have been taking turns.
“I’m waiting and waiting,” she said.
Corona, where Pérez and her father live, is one of the New York City neighborhoods that have been most devastated by the pandemic. Now it is among the places where the fewest residents have received vaccines. In one ZIP code in Corona, fewer than 5% of the predominantly poor and working-class immigrant population had received at least one dose as of Sunday, data shows — among the lowest rates in the city. In one wealthy ZIP code on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, that number reached 28%.
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Around the country, the vaccine rollout has reflected the same troubling inequalities as the pandemic’s death toll, leaving Black, Latino and poorer people at a disadvantage. In New York City, home to more than 3 million immigrants from all over the world, data released last week suggests that vaccination rates in immigrant enclaves scattered across the five boroughs are among the city’s lowest.
This month, The New York Times interviewed 115 people living in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods about the rollout and their attitudes toward the vaccine.
Only eight people said they had received a dose. The interviews revealed language and technology roadblocks; some believed there were no vaccine sites nearby. Others described mistrust in government officials and the health care system. Many expressed fears about vaccine safety fomented by news reports and social media.
The broader public might find it difficult to understand why people in communities ravaged by the coronavirus would be reluctant to line up for the vaccine, said Marcella J. Tillett, vice president of programs and partnerships at the Brooklyn Community Foundation.
“This is where there has been a lot of illness and death,” said Tillett, whose foundation is distributing funds to community-led organizations for vaccine education and outreach. “The idea that people are just going to step out and trust a system that has harmed them is nonsensical.”
To be sure, thousands of immigrant New Yorkers have gotten vaccinated, navigating the system with patience, if not ease. Jerry Tie, 42, who runs his family’s jewelry store, Jalee Jewelry in Flushing, Queens, said he called the state’s hotline every day for five days before getting appointments for his parents, who are immigrants from Taiwan and in their late 60s.
Others have relied on social service organizations. BronxWorks recently held a five-day vaccine pop-up on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, administering hundreds of shots each day.
“What I saw were a lot of very grateful people who were able to get vaccinated relatively close to where they live,” said John Weed, assistant executive director of BronxWorks.
To increase participation in immigrant enclaves and communities of color, the city has opened vaccine mega-sites at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Citi Field in Queens, which offer vaccinations to eligible residents of each borough. (There had been reports of suburbanites coming in to claim doses.)
The state is holding online “fireside chats” in several languages, opening new sites in Brooklyn and Queens, and continuing to bring pop-up sites to neighborhood organizations, said Rossana Rosado, New York’s secretary of state and a co-chair of the state’s Vaccine Equity Task Force.
Still, obstacles remain.
The Sign-Up System
Walking down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, Derrick Williams, 72, hung up the phone after talking with his daughter, who he said had been trying to get him an appointment. Technology had made it difficult for him to schedule one himself, said Williams, who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica.
“Elderly people, we don’t understand the phone, the computer,” he said, waving his iPhone. “They need to make it easier for us.”
Many people said they had been stymied by backlogs. Yesenia Abreu, 42, a secretary at Pagan Driving School in Washington Heights in Manhattan, said she had been trying to make an appointment for her aunt.
“She doesn’t know how to deal with technology and the site is always crashing,” said Abreu, who also said the city had not provided enough information in Spanish.
Many of those interviewed — including people already eligible for the vaccine, like older adults and restaurant delivery workers — said they had not tried to book appointments because they worried about reports of mild side effects, or people who had died after getting the vaccine, even though no direct links have been found.
“My family is united on the matter; they don’t want me to take the vaccine. I’ll stick with wearing a mask,” said Ao Gui Qin, 68, an immigrant from China. Ao has been selling face masks and rubbing alcohol on a sidewalk in Flushing, Queens, for the past year, including, more recently, a $5 mask featuring an image of President Joe Biden.
Twahair Mohammad, who is from Myanmar, stopped to speak with The Times while delivering food in his neighborhood of Elmhurst, Queens. He said he preferred to wait to see if there were side effects of the vaccine.
“I’m scared right now,” said Mohammad, 39, who delivers food for an app on an electric bicycle. “I need it, but not right now.”
Mariam Diallo, 42, a resident of the South Bronx who is originally from Guinea, said she was not interested in the vaccine and was unlikely to change her mind when her turn came: “I don’t want to put any bacteria in my body.”
Otto Charles, a Flatbush resident whose parents are from Haiti, said city officials had neglected his community at the height of the pandemic, which was enough to sow mistrust. Charles, 47, said the officials had failed to even stop local price gouging for items such as Lysol disinfectant, which he saw as evidence that he and his neighbors had been left to fend for themselves.
“They didn’t come rescue us when we needed help, and now they want us to take this vaccine?” said Charles, who works as a porter at Hudson Yards. Alluding to moments in American history when the government unethically conducted medical experiments on Black people, he added, “We don’t want to be experimented on.”
In Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Sonia Castillo said fear of the authorities among the area’s Mexican-born community stemmed from recent crackdowns on immigrants in the country illegally by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“People don’t even go to the hospital because they are scared their information is going to be shared with ICE,” Castillo, 50, said from behind the counter of her folk art boutique, Novedades Sonih-Mex.
For some, fear arose from too much information. For others, from too little.
“Some of these people have nothing,” said Sarahi Marquez, 29. “They don’t even have TV.”
Marquez manages San Jeronimo, her family’s restaurant in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island, where she said she has become a source of information about the vaccine for her staff and other members of the area’s large Mexican community.
“Some people think it is a conspiracy,” said Marquez, a college graduate and recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the federal program that shields some young immigrants from deportation. “There is an idea that they are not here to vaccinate us but to put a chip in us to monitor us.”
She said she had dismissed the idea as “ridiculous,” but added, “If you don’t have reliable, trustworthy sources, you’re going to believe what you hear on the street.”
For many, the greatest obstacle to getting vaccinated is a lack of time.
In Sunset Park, Waverly Dong, 22, said her four-member family of grocery workers had not signed up, though they are eligible. Business had picked up in the store, she said, in the days leading up to Lunar New Year. In the local Chinese community, she said, store owners and customers did not discuss the vaccine.(Author: Annie Correal )/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)