Elected officials and community leaders gathered at Corona Plaza, urging Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase the number of vaccination sites in the western Queens neighborhood.
Corona, which was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, possesses one of the lowest vaccination rates in the five boroughs, with only 4 percent of its residents having been fully vaccinated and 6 percent partially vaccinated, despite the neighborhood being one of the most populated areas in the city.
Currently, only three vaccination sites exist to serve more than 83,000 residents, with only two sites offering second shots at this time. Hurdles in obtaining vaccination appointments and registration difficulties have also contributed to the staggeringly low rates.
“Our community has been crying out for help since the beginning of this epidemic and it is patently offensive that we are still forced to beg for basic dignities,” Assemblywoman Catalina Cuz said. “It is incomprehensible that the city and state are not prioritizing vaccinations for districts that experienced the greatest physical impact from this pandemic while more affluent neighborhoods have been given top priority.”
By comparison, residents in one ZIP code in Manhattan’s Upper East Side have a full vaccination rate of 25 percent.
“Years of neglect left our community as the epicenter, and we are simply asking for the same chance to survive that other communities are being given,” Cruz said. “Our neighbors pay taxes. Our neighbors are contributing members of our community, and they deserve the same chance at survival. I demand the city and state increase the number of vaccination sites available to the community, and improve accessibility options to communities who lack the resources to register.”
The makeup of the district largely consists of low-income essential workers in the construction, restaurant and healthcare sectors. Due to demands for in-person manual labor, the majority of the workers didn’t have the option of working from home and faced repeated exposure to the general public. Because of economic restraints and lack of affordable housing, low-income families in the area often house multiple generations in a single apartment, making social distancing measures recommended by the CDC nearly impossible.
“The coronavirus pandemic has decimated our communities of color, our immigrant neighbors and working poor New Yorkers. This is most evident in the neighborhood of Corona, the epicenter of the epicenter,” Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas said. “It is abhorrent that only about 5 percent of its adult residents have received partial vaccination, and only about 4 percent have been fully vaccinated. These are the same New Yorkers who have woken up each day to stock our grocery stores, care after our loved ones in the hospitals, and cleaned our public transportation system, all while they have seen their loved ones die.”
Additional contributing factors to the low rates in Corona include vaccine shortages, difficulty registering for appointments, insufficient options for immigrants with limited English language proficiency, and meager travel alternatives for people with limited mobility, such as the elderly and people with disabilities.
“Corona is a neighborhood that has been among the hardest hit when COVID-19 hit our borough hard one year ago,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “Given the trauma this community has endured, Corona needs to continue being a vaccination priority. Enough is enough; we need more vaccination access in Corona, and I hope our leaders are able to assign more sites soon so our neighbors can soon return to normal.”
Al Perna, the president of the Corona Community Ambulance Corps, has seen the damage caused by the pandemic in his community and his family.
“I was here for the pandemic in the communities of Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. It was sad to say I lost my father to COVID,” Perna said. “We now have a chance to get everyone vaccinated and this community doesn’t have enough facilities to give out these COVID shots. What are the mayor and governor doing about this? Everyone else is getting shots except our community.”