City Council candidates and lawmakers say northeast Queens still lacks COVID-19 vaccination sites for senior population

2021-02-08 Rozic, NE Queens Lawmakers Call for COVID-19 Vaccine Sites
Northeast Queens lawmakers held a press conference at the Commonpoint Queens Sam Field Center in Little Neck demanding the city establish COVID-19 vaccination sites for the area. (Photo courtesy of Assemblywoman Nily Rozic’s office)

Nearly a month after lawmakers authored a letter demanding COVID-19 vaccination sites in northeast Queens, other members of the community are continuing to push for sites, citing the needs of the area’s larger-than-average senior population.

The letter, which was sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio on Jan. 12, complained that the “vaccination desert” did not have any sites “east of Union Street, Flushing or north of 82nd Road in Jamaica.” Despite persistent community demands, City Council candidates in District 23 say that northeast Queens still lacks accessible sites a week into February.

“District 23 has a larger senior community than the rest of New York City and the current difficulty in seniors’ ability to be vaccinated is simply not acceptable,” said City Council candidate Debra Markell. “Eastern Queens doesn’t even have a rapid testing center, let alone a coordinated, convenient vaccine facility. It is crucial this is addressed.”

According to the city’s vaccine finder, the closest locations to get inoculated are in Flushing, forcing seniors to travel out of their neighborhoods like Bay Terrace, Bayside, Little Neck and Douglaston.

City Council District 23 candidate Linda Lee said that the state was “exploring” the option of using the Korean Community Services building as a COVID vaccination site. (Photo courtesy of KCS)

Some leaders in the community have come up with workarounds for this issue, including free senior transportation to vaccination appointments outside of northeast Queens. But other glaring issues remain, including registration difficulties for individuals who may be less tech savvy.

“This dependence on making an appointment online where seniors are not tech-savvy, among the very community is most in need of the vaccine, is completely unfair and is, in my opinion, simply discriminatory,” Markell said.

Linda Lee, another District 23 candidate, said that the state is “exploring” the possibility of using existing centers like the Korean Community Services building in Bayside, as a viable vaccination site.

Lee, an Oakland Gardens resident, added that she got the COVID-19 vaccine at the Javits Center in Manhattan and found it “unbelievable” that eastern Queens residents do not have access to a nearby vaccination site.

At a Feb. 8 press conference in front of the Commonpoint Queens Sam Field Center, northeast Queens elected officials led by Assembly members Nily Rozic and Ed Braunstein and Councilmen Paul Vallone and Peter Koo, demanded that the city come up with a permanent vaccine location for area residents.

“Once again, the city has forgotten about northeast Queens,” said Rozic. “We understand the vaccine shortage has created logistical hurdles, but we cannot leave any communities behind when supply is eventually replenished and distributed. The city should have identified appropriate locations that could serve as vaccination sites months ago so our communities are not overlooked. The expectation that seniors must travel long distances for the chance of immunization is unacceptable.” 

Community Board 11 Chair Michael Budabin said that they made efforts to contact NYC COVID-19 Vaccine Command and said that “they have been responsive and understanding of our situation.”

“We are aware that  it is hard to open new vaccination sites without a reliable influx of doses from the Federal government. However, it is the strong belief of our Health and Human Services Committee that logistical planning should be implemented now to ensure a vaccination site is fully prepared to  open in Community Board 11, Queens immediately upon the availability of adequate and consistent delivery of vaccine doses. We stand willing and able to volunteer to help find sites  that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and large enough to serve our neighborhoods,” Budabin said.  

The same day, the mayor’s office announced that Citi Field would open as a mass COVID-19 vaccine site on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

NY1 reported that a spokesperson mayor said that the city is “continuing to identify” vaccination sites while the governor’s office said that pop-up vaccination sites would begin opening in northeast Queens in the “coming weeks.”