Nassau County and Freeport leaders teamed up with Northwell Health to host a three-day pop-up vaccination clinic at Zion Cathedral Church that began Tuesday and was scheduled to continue through Friday, after the Herald went to press.
About 800 residents were set to receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the event.
County Executive Laura Curran said the partnership among elected officials, leaders of the ministry at Zion Cathedral and Northwell serves those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Communities of color, officials noted, have had a higher rate of infection over the past year.
“These pop-ups ensure access to the vaccines in all our communities,” Curran said, “and also build confidence in the vaccines so others in the community will get vaccinated.”
“This pandemic has exposed many of the disparities that have existed in our communities for years,” said Bishop Frank A. White of Zion Cathedral, “and it’s important for the church to work with the county and Northwell to address these health care disparities that have had a devastating impact in the Latino and African-American communities.”
The vaccinations were reserved for Freeport, Roosevelt, Hempstead and Uniondale residents. Northwell Health held a pop-up clinic in Roosevelt in January.
The vaccination events are part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate to ensure equal distribution of the vaccine across the state, Northwell officials explained. In January, Northwell joined the county’s Health Equity Task Force to roll out the vaccine in communities with the highest infection rates.
Freeport continues to be among the communities hit hardest by Covid-19, with more than 5,500 positive cases reported as of this week, according to the county Department of Health.
National studies have shown that majority-minority communities like Freeport have had higher rates of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths than predominantly white communities since the pandemic began last March, and in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-Americans were 1.4 times more likely to contract Covid-19 than whites, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized for the virus and 2.8 percent more likely to die from it.
Residents of these communities often work in essential businesses and are at higher risk of exposure. In Freeport, more than 4,200 residents worked in health care- support services in 2018, roughly 2,300 worked in sales and more than 2,200 worked in education services, according to census data.
To ensure that the most vulnerable were served first, the county reached out to Zion Cathedral and local elected officials to help book the appointments.
Given the history of the U.S. government’s abuses of Blacks through experimental vaccinations, White said, he had expected hesitation from residents and fellow members of the ministry when he reached out to them about the vaccines. Instead, he learned that many of them had already received them and would help to spread the word about them to others. “We’re here to fight misinformation and build hope over the vaccine,” he said.
County Legislator Steven Rhoads, who oversees parts of Freeport, said he also heard people’s worries about the vaccine while serving as director of the Youth Ministry Program at St. Pius X Parish in Plainview.
“Never before in the course of human history have we had scientists working on the same thing at the same time when it came to making these vaccines,” Rhoads said. “They are 95 percent effective... and the best course of action to get our lives back to where we want them is to get that shot in our arms.”
Fellow Legislator Debra Mulé, of Freeport, worked with the Freeport-Roosevelt branch of the NAACP to book appointments. Together, they worked to reach vulnerable populations in the homeless and undocumented communities. NAACP Branch President Douglas Meyer said that because these groups are either wary of the government or lack access to phones and computers, the county needs to go above and beyond to reach them.
“This pandemic won’t end unless we can vaccinate these groups,” Meyer said.
Upon seeing residents come in and out of the church to receive the vaccine, White expressed some relief over what has been a tumultuous year. Since the pandemic began, White said he’s had to console countless members of his congregation over fear and loss due to Covid-19.
“More than 500,000 people died because of this pandemic,” White said. “These were breathing human beings. They were fathers, mothers, grandparents, teachers, preachers, politicians, health care workers and so much more. We have to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, and this pop-up is one more step.”
Curran said that by the end of the week, about 36 percent of county residents will have received at least the first dose of the vaccine.
Those 18 and older will be able to sign up for inoculations on April 6. County officials said they will be available regardless of immigration or health insurance status.