Phyllis Elliott, a home health aide who lives in Crown Heights, was thrilled to line up on the opening day of the large-scale COVID-19 vaccine site at Medgar Evers College.
Elliott’s children live in Trinidad, and she wants to travel there to see them. Her friend shared a phone number to make an appointment, echoing others at the site on Wednesday who heard about the event through word of mouth, the news, or Twitter accounts advertising vaccine appointments.
“It’s for my health,” Elliott said while walking to join dozens of other people lining up down the block and around the corner from the college, where the state’s largest vaccination site opened Wednesday. “I’m happy to take it because so long [as] it’s good for everybody, it is good for me.”
The vaccine site at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College launched the same day as a Queens site at York College. Both state-run locations are aimed to help expand access to vaccines for people in neighborhoods where few, so far, have gotten the shot—mostly lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Each has the capacity to dole out 3,000 doses a day.
The first week of appointments is set aside for those eligible for the vaccine and living in nearby ZIP codes. After that, the sites will be for each respective borough’s residents only. This rule aims to avoid the scene witnessed in January in Washington Heights, where few from the neighborhood were getting inoculated at a vaccine site at the Armory. NewYork-Presbyterian, which runs the uptown site, ultimately changed the residency requirements.
The new sites are also a boon for people who lack access to broadband internet or computers, a common issue for seniors in New York. At Medgar Evers College at 231 Crown Street, AmeriCorps staff directed people into two lines—one for those with appointments and one for those without to line up and go inside to sign up for a slot.
One person in the second line was home health aide Pamela, who showed up in person after being unable to make an appointment on the phone.
“I wanna be safe,” said the Flatbush resident, who declined to share her last name. Though she’s been eligible for several weeks, she decided to sign up after finding out she could get vaccinated closer to home.
Nikki Hay, a Bed-Stuy resident, wanted to ask someone directly if she could qualify and came along while her husband, who has an underlying condition, got a shot. Hay is a yoga instructor but felt unsure about where she fell on the state’s definition of “educator.” Some fitness instructors have gotten vaccinated, causing backlash online, but her friends who work for a dance studio have, too, been inoculated.
I just wanted to talk to a real person. There are real people here, which is awesome.
“I just wanted to talk to a real person. There are real people here, which is awesome, to just ask questions to see if I do qualify,” Hay said.
East New York resident Sandrina Francis, 79, registered after her church’s priest encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.
“I’m happy to know that I’m getting it today,” said Francis, whose niece helped her make an appointment. “A few weeks ago, I got a fever, and I didn’t know what it was, and then my daughter ended up in the hospital with COVID. I’m worried, so I wanted to get it.”
While the Medgar Evers lines were busy, a quick stroll around the neighborhood gave the impression that outreach efforts hadn't reached everyone. No signage or flyers were spotted advertising the vaccine site on nearby blocks. A local mutual aid group, Crown Heights Mutual Aid, mobilized Wednesday to post flyers after hearing from neighbors during grocery deliveries that many were unaware of the new hub.
Melissa Singh, a hairstylist at Queen Styling and Braiding Salon on Nostrand Avenue a block north of the vaccination hub, didn’t know about the Medgar Evers site, though she’d want the vaccine once she’s eligible.
Outside the Associated Supermarket a few blocks south of Medgar Evers, a 46-year-old management consultant said he found out from a local news site, Patch.com. But even if he were eligible, he’s not sure he’ll sign up until a year has passed because he’s worried about future side effects and how quickly it was developed. So far, the authorized vaccines have remained safe and effective.
Fifty-seven-year-old Doreen Verna, who was with a group outside an apartment building on Nostrand Avenue and President Street, only knew of the vaccination site because she lives across the street from it and saw news vans outside the location Wednesday morning.
One man, who declined to share his name, wasn’t aware of the site until Gothamist told him. He felt like the announcement had only reached a subset of people in the neighborhood, signifying how the neighborhood is gentrifying.“People who live in the neighborhood, two blocks away, don’t know, so how are you advertising it?” he said.
For COVID-19 appointments at state-run sites, like Medgar Evers College and York College, you can use the state's website or call 1-833-NYS-4-VAX. (Here are details for which ZIP codes the Medgar Evers College and York College sites are currently serving, as well as bus stop information.)
For an appointment at NYC sites, you can use the city's website or call 1-877-VAX-4NYC.