More than 132 million people in the United States have received a single covid-19 vaccine, and this week, more than 16 Americans are eligible.
But as the US has vaccinated more people than any other country in the world, vulnerable people are still cracked. Those most affected are those who do not speak English, people who do not know the internet, and migrant workers who do not have the time or computers to reserve their own space. In many places, community leaders, volunteers, and newspapers have stepped in to help.
One of those groups is Epicenter-NYC, a media company set up during the epidemic to help neighbors navigate the covid-19. Based on the Queens area of Jackson Heights, which has been hit hard by the crisis, the agency publishes an article on education, business, and other local issues.
But Epicenter-NYC has gone ahead and stockpiled more than 4,600 vaccines for people in New York and beyond. People who want to be vaccinated can contact the organization — perhaps through input form, hotline, text message, or email – to help you set an appointment.
Throughout the release of the vaccine, the team has been rewriting and sharing what they have learned about the vaccine with a large audience of readers.
We spoke to S. Mitra Kalita, publisher of Epicenter-NYC, former vice president of CNN Digital and a producer and CEO of Average URL, an online marketing network that describes black colors.
This conversation has been modified and edited to make it clearer.
Q: How did you start developing people with vaccines?
A: It started with two access stages. First of all, when I need to register my parents for a vaccine and find that the procedure is confusing, I immediately wonder if the elderly, their friends and neighbors, are doing the right thing. I just started texting them.
Tuesday was when the restaurant [from our small business spotlight program] he told them, “Do you know how to get vaccinated for restaurant workers?” Because I run some of this for the elderly, I started helping the staff in the restaurants. There have been similar challenges like this. One of the employees of this restaurant has a girlfriend who drives a taxi; when I helped him, he asked me if I could help his friend; then the teenager texted me and some of his friends; and it continued to spread the same way.
Q: How is Epicenter-NYC filling the gaps in vaccine distribution right now? How is your plan, and who are you supporting?
Answer: We have had between 200 and 250 people strive for commitment. The effort to reach out includes setting up flying, interpreting, and calling people to keep track of appointments.
I don’t care if you’re a Bangladeshi taxi driver in Queens and your cousin is in New Jersey. We will help you all. A 102-year-old Upper East Side woman who is unable to go home and needs to visit has received the help of Epicenter.
What we are doing now is continuing the process of connecting people with each other and opportunities. There is a lot of matchmaking going on. We were able to compile a list of about 7,500 to 8,000 people who said they needed help, and found a place nearby. We have become a wonderful family – a middle-class project that also includes solutions to problems.
Q: We know that vaccine prices remain in many categories that were very difficult. Why is that? What challenges and obstacles do people face?
A: Just before that A recent announcement by Johnson & Johnson, I said, “We have reached a point where everyone who is left with a special case.”
I think we have jumped on the bandwagon to protect the vaccine without eliminating the vaccine. We do not see much doubt, but we do see some difficulty in some areas. Number one is getting ready. We struggle with people working two, maybe three, and when they say “I have this window on Sunday at 3 o’clock until about 6 o’clock in the afternoon, when my next period starts,” he means it’s just a window.
Question: People have been asked to confirm who they are, where they work, and where they live so that they can be vaccinated. This was especially true when eligibility was low. How did you help people overcome obstacles to obtain the documents they needed?
Answer: New York State has made it clear that you can still get vaccinated even if you do not have a license. But the message does not really match what is underway.