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Boosting Vaccine Access as Infections Tick Up

Wed, 11/24/2021 - 10:21
Durell Godfrey

From pediatric vaccine clinics to booster shots for everyone 18 and up to information sessions held in people’s homes, efforts are ongoing on the East End to increase vaccination rates locally and across the state.

More than 200 local children between the ages of 5 and 11 received first doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the weekend, thanks to clinics facilitated by the Springs School District on Saturday and the Sag Harbor School District on Sunday, in partnership with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. The districts each provided the hospital with four classrooms for nurses to administer the shots, and students each spent 15 minutes in the gym for observation. Sag Harbor even played movies to help keep the kids entertained.

“The goal is to do everything we can to keep our students and our school community safe from Covid, and so the more people who are vaccinated, the safer we are. I think this was an important step,” said Jeff Nichols, the Sag Harbor superintendent, who also opened up his district’s clinic to students of the Bridgehampton School.

In Suffolk County, and across the state, infection rates have ticked steadily upward since late October, with 5.17 percent (459) of the 8,875 tests coming back positive on Sunday.

Vaccination rates for children ages 12 and up in Sag Harbor are at 65 to 85 percent, depending on the grade level, Mr. Nichols said. “I’d like those numbers to be even higher, but vaccination is a personal choice at this point, so all we can do is put the facts out there about the vaccine and people have to make their decision.”

Debra Winter, the Springs superintendent, said she spoke with parents as they came in with their kids. “They were there for different reasons — some to protect their parents or grandparents, others because they think it’s going to be a requirement for extracurricular activities outside of school,” she said.

She is hopeful that as student vaccination rates increase, mask requirements in schools will be lifted. Either way, she said, “we get frustrated if things stay the same. I think we need to see movement, especially with us doing our part.”

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control approved booster shots for all people ages 18 and up. Gov. Kathy Hochul lauded the decision, particularly as the holiday season arrives and more people gather indoors with friends and family. She said that 80 percent of adults in New York are fully vaccinated.

“Boosters can help provide additional protection, especially for those over the age of 50 and others with underlying conditions. . . . We know the recent increase in the spread of Covid across regions of New York State is happening due to lower vaccination rates in those areas,” she said in a statement. “Getting more New Yorkers vaccinated, including children aged 5 and older, remains the best way to help turn the tide in our fight against Covid-19.”

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital said in a statement this week that it is ready to accommodate those who are seeking first, second, and third shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Shots are given at the hospital’s Parrish Hall and appointments can be made online at bit.ly/3DMg3cy.

East Hampton Town plans vaccine clinics at Town Hall on Dec. 13 and Dec. 20.

Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island announced earlier this month that it has received a grant of $99,444 from the Hispanic Federation, a nationwide nonprofit group, to continue its Healthy East End vaccination program. One aspect of the program, said OLA’s executive director, Minerva Perez, is holding small gatherings in people’s homes to “talk about the whole thing, look at some data, and talk about concerns they have — not to push them or be heavy-handed, but allow that conversation to happen.”

OLA has hired an adult vaccine ambassador and two high school-age vaccine ambassadors, who will encourage their peers to get vaccinated, and is providing information in Spanish because in some places there still isn’t a lot of accurate information in the language, Ms. Perez said. She hopes to hold a vaccine clinic soon at the Children’s Museum of the East End. OLA has also been providing translation services at vaccine clinics because “there’s only a small number of nurses who speak Spanish.”

Since February, OLA said it has directly helped at least 3,770 people get vaccines, not limited to the Latinx demographic. New York State data show that in many places, vaccination rates among people of color are still trailing behind rates among white people compared to the percentage of the population they represent. In Suffolk, as of Sunday, about 85.5 percent of white people ages 15 and up had received at least one vaccine dose, about even with the percentage of Suffolk residents who are white. About 21.6 percent of Latinx people have received at least one dose; they make up 17.8 percent of the county’s population. Of African-Americans, 7.3 percent have received at least one dose, despite making up 8.5 percent of the population. Suffolk County has about 1.5 million residents.

“These times are concerning enough. We want to make sure there’s adequate information during the entire process,” Ms. Perez said. “You want to have all of that there and you want to do it with ease, so everyone feels calm and supported.


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