“Vaccinate First, Reopen Next!”

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“Vaccinate First, Reopen Next!”

Health Advocates and Community Groups Demand Responsible Reopening

health equity demonstrationAt noon on Tuesday May 11, 2021, activists of the COVID-19 New York Working Group, Housing Works, ACT UP-NY, Treatment Action Group, National Black Leadership Commission on Health (Black Health), Rise and Resist, People of Color Health Justice, New York Doctors Coalition, Make the Road, African Services Committee, COVID Courage and more gathered before Governor Cuomo’s office at 633 3rd Ave in Manhattan to protest the reckless reopening of businesses at full capacity across New York State by May 19, 2021. 

Activists are protesting the rush to reopen well ahead of the summer while most of New York City’s predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods had not had time to be adequately vaccinated.

While almost 80% of residents over the age of 18 have received at least one shot of the vaccine in majority white and wealthy neighborhoods like Lenox Hill and the Upper West Side, this number is closer to 40% in majority Black neighborhoods like Mott Haven and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

On November 15, 2020 at Riverside Church, Governor Cuomo said, “Let me be clear, the Black and brown communities that were first on the list of who died cannot be last on the list of who receives the vaccine, period. We cannot and we will not let that happen.” Yet, this is exactly what is happening.

Jaron Benjamin, Vice President of Community Mobilization and National Advocacy for Housing Works, led a group of over thirty protestors marching and chanting, “vaccinate first, reopen next!” District 7 Councilmember Mark Levine and Chair of the Council Committee on Health condemned the governor’s rush to reopen while many New Yorkers have not yet been vaccinated.

Fitim Shabani, the Staten Island Borough Advocate, represented the Office of Jumaane Williams, the NYC Public Advocate. “Enacting complicated new ordinances on short notice, without clear health data presented as justification, undermines confidence that these decisions are being guided by public health and not politics. When the science indicates safety these re-openings can be celebrated,” said Mr. Shabani, “But when it does not – such as bringing city workers back in-person when only 34% of New York City’s workforce has been vaccinated, or lifting most capacity restrictions in just over a week — those decisions should be scrutinized and leadership questioned.”

After the haphazard and unequal response to the COVID pandemic, including a vaccine rollout that has left the most vulnerable communities far back in line for the shots, we are now concerned that state’s rush to reopen will be placing New Yorkers under a renewed threat of contracting the virus. We have seen around the world how COVID variants have led to a deadly resurgence, and if we learned anything at the outbreak of COVID, we are certainly not immune to the spread of a virus that began overseas. We know what community spread did to this city last year, and we are concerned that the declining rates of vaccination and continued resistance to wearing masks poses a renewed threat we cannot ignore. We all want the city to reopen fully, but we have to follow the science. That is what we are calling on the Governor to do and to slow down the reopening until we know it is safe.

C. Virginia Fields, President of Black Health

Black Health, African Services Committee, Housing Works are all community-based organizations who participate in citywide vaccine outreach if not vaccine distribution. Physicians and public health experts affiliated with COVID Courage and the New York Doctors Coalition represent members who work on the frontlines of the pandemic response. On Tuesday, these groups were united in advocating for the state to center the expertise of community-based groups in reaching the unvaccinated New Yorkers, often because of mutually reinforcing mistrust and marginalization.

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