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Opinion | How New York’s Vaccine Program Missed Black and Hispanic Residents

There is no suggestion of widespread fraud, and making sure the vaccines aren’t wasted should always be a top priority. But in a pandemic defined by inequality, the racial disparity in vaccine distribution was foreseeable and avoidable. Fortunately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio now appear ready to change New York’s approach.

The mayor’s office said Sunday that city officials planned to set aside vaccine appointments in 33 high-risk areas for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have high death rates from Covid-19, high rates of poverty and a higher prevalence of chronic illnesses like asthma. City officials said they would begin offering vaccinations to the household family members of vaccine-eligible New Yorkers who live in those high-poverty neighborhoods.

State officials also said they planned to expand their vaccination efforts in high-poverty communities. A state-run vaccination site scheduled to open at Yankee Stadium this week will be open only to residents of the Bronx, which has among the highest poverty rates in the United States.

While these changes are a good start, the state and city can do more.

For example, should officials reorient the vaccination program by ZIP code? Some, such as Mark Levine, the chairman of the City Council’s health committee, argue that doing so could give priority to residents in high-poverty areas that have the highest rates of illness and death from Covid.

What does a more ambitious large-scale outreach campaign in underserved communities look like? It will be important to getting more people vaccinated and combating any hesitancy around the vaccines. That could mean sending many more public health workers door-to-door, embedding those workers within communities to help people easily book appointments and creating easy-to-use hotlines in multiple languages. The state and city should also consider expanding its partnerships with community health organizations across New York City, Nassau and Westchester Counties and other places that are already battle-tested and trusted by local residents.

That said, the biggest hurdles don’t appear to be mistrust but access. Many people in Latino and Black communities want to get vaccinated but are having trouble securing appointments, said Maria Lizardo, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, a nonprofit that serves Washington Heights, Inwood and the Bronx.

For all its shortcomings, New York’s vaccination effort is improving and aiming to be more equitable in deciding who gets the shots and when. But there’s still a long way to go before all the city’s residents are protected from the pandemic.

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