These days, Lipi Roy spends her free hours helping people with substance-abuse issues get vaccinated.
“It’s the right thing to do,” the doctor and NYU assistant professor told The Post.
In New York, only 6% of the population is fully inoculated, per worldwide COVID-19 vaccination database GlobalEpidemics.org.
Complex online scheduling platforms, language barriers and inequitable health care have hindered access to the vaccine for many vulnerable citizens. But now, heroic New Yorkers are fighting to level the playing field.
Like Roy, Tomas Ramos has made it his mission to help immunize people who might otherwise struggle to get a coveted appointment slot. His grassroots organization, the Bronx Rising Initiative, hosts pop-up vaccination centers for seniors living in The Bronx’s housing projects.
“We’re trying to save lives,” Ramos told The Post.
Similarly, Brooklyn Councilmen Mark Treyger is spearheading a bill aimed at getting immobilized elders vaccinated through an at-home vaccination initiative.
“Seniors want the vaccination, they just need help,” Treyger told The Post, noting the digital challenges — such as lack of reliable WiFi or internet literacy — that many face while trying to navigate online portals.
“They can’t stay up until 1 a.m. trying to register,” he said. And “it’s not like looking for a [PlayStation 5] … This is life or death.”
Below, four champions of the underserved share how they’re working overtime to help distribute the vaccine.
She leaps over language barriers
A recent study on racial equality and health policy found that people whose primary language is not English have been less likely to receive the shot.
So when Columbia School of Public Health professor Morgan Philbin got an email from NewYork Presbyterian seeking Spanish-speaking translators at the hospital’s vaccination site in Washington Heights, she immediately volunteered.
“A lot of people who don’t speak English as their primary language rely on their kids or family members to translate,” Philbin explained to The Post. “But they often have questions that they don’t feel comfortable asking their kid to translate or putting into Google Translate.”
Philbin works a weekly 8-hour shift at the Fort Washington Armory vaccination site, translating both Spanish and Mandarin. Since January, she has helped hundreds of non-English speaking New Yorkers get the shot.
Noting the general lack of translators at immunization sites, Philbin told The Post, “New York is not some tiny under-resourced town in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “There’s no excuse for not having multiple language translators at every vaccination center.”
He pops up to aid the elderly
When Ramos, 33, realized Black and Latino seniors were being vaccinated at a lower rate than white or Asian New Yorkers, he knew he had to do something.
Ramos’ Bronx Rising Initiative, a nonprofit launched in response to the pandemic, hosted its first pop-up vaccination clinic at the Bronx River Community Center in January. Supported by the Morris Heights Health Center, a borough-wide health-care outlet that supplied the vaccines, Ramos and his team set up a medical clinic in the building’s senior center and helped over 100 elderly get inoculated.
“We literally set up an entire clinic in a new space for one day,” Ramos told The Post.
Bronx Rising Initiative has helped hundreds of seniors in low-income neighborhoods get vaccinated, over 3,000 register for the shot online,and has raised over $2 million towards vaccination funding.
“You get to see the smiles on the seniors’ faces when they got vaccinated,” he told The Post.
“Our goal is to go to every single NYCHA development, so we’re not leaving anyone out.”
She protects and serves the sick
Ensuring addicts get vaccinated is a labor of love for Roy, who told The Post that “substance abuse disorder is a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease . . . and people with chronic illness are at increased risk for COVID and death.”
When she’s not teaching or serving as the medical director for Housing Works, an advocacy group for the city’s homeless and HIV/AIDS population, Roy vaccinates people battling addiction in the South Bronx and the Lower East Side.
She volunteers with the New York City Medical Reserve Corps, a collection of health-care professionals administering the vaccination to New York’s most vulnerable.
In addition to administering the shot, Roy is advocating for the vaccine to be made available at methadone clinics, harm-reduction facilities, churches and Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She noted that building trust with drug and alcohol dependents — a demographic that tends to be skeptical of the health-care system — is the best way to help them get fully immunized.
“Vaccines are safe and the most successful public-health campaign intervention in human history,” she told The Post. “Vaccines have saved millions of lives and they’ll continue to do so.”
He steps out for the homebound
Making sure bedridden seniors in Brooklyn get the vaccine is a personal mission for Mark Treyger.
“We’re a very close-knit community,” the former public school teacher-turned-47th District Council Member told The Post. “Someone’s grandma is our grandma. That’s our grandma who needs help. That’s how we roll here in my district.”
At the onset of the vaccine rollout, Treyger introduced a bill aimed at getting immobilized elders, as well as their health aides, the shot through an at-home vaccination initiative with the Department of Health. The new law will help speed up vaccination efforts in Brooklyn, the borough with the largest population of seniors in New York.
Treyger’s bill will be voted on within the next few weeks. If passed, it will go into effect immediately.
“The government must be there for those who cannot really help themselves,” Treyger said. “We need to always have a plan that’s centered on equity and fairness for those that need the most help.”
How to find a vaccine appointment
More than 7 million New Yorkers are currently eligible for the vaccine, according to the state’s CovidVaccine database, but many are still having trouble locking in an appointment. Here are tips for navigating tricky online registration forms and call-in systems.
- Check out TurboVax.com, by software engineer Huge Ma, for updates about available vaccine appointments from city and state-run sites. Ma’s Twitter feed @turbvax provides up-to-the-minute tips about newly open slots.
- Join Facebook group Helping NYC Get Vaccinated for the latest information about the vaccine. It’s private, but open to anyone who’s willing to follow the rules (no scammers or antivaxxers, per the admins). Started by Queens natives Rebekah Hanousek-Monge and Chelsea Lavington, the social page offers insights on locating available appointments and dealing with confusing registration portals.
- Twitter user @HeyItsKenisha, a k a Kenisha Johnson, notifies her followers about available appointments, and offers tricks for nabbing them. These include choosing less-competitive time slots and scouring sites for cancellations in bad weather.
- The volunteer-run website NYCVaccineList.com updates users about available appointments at inoculation spots across the five boroughs, with notations on wheelchair accessibility and even the brand of vaccine on offer.