In NYC’s Furthest Flung Neighborhood, Vaccine a Tough Sell

A Northwell Health nurse fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in the Staten Island borough of New York.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

If there’s one place where people could fear the coronavirus more than a vaccination needle, it’s the Far Rockaway section of Queens: Nearly 460 residents of the seaside neighborhood have died of COVID-19.

As of Monday, only 29% of people living Far Rockaway’s ZIP code, 11691, had received even one vaccine dose, according to data from the New York City Health Department. That compares to a rate of 49% citywide and nationally.

The situation in the community of around 67,000 people illustrates the challenges facing health officials in many places as they try to overcome hesitancy fueled by mistrust, misinformation and fear.

“We have a good amount of people that still don’t want to get vaccinated, for whatever reason,” said Diana Catalan, a health clinic manager involved in the Far Rockaway inoculation effort whose father, a neighborhood resident, died of the virus in February.

Like a lot of places where vaccination rates lag, a majority of residents are Black and Hispanic. Among some Black Americans, there’s documented distrust in the medical establishment and government because of a history of discriminatory treatment.

People without legal status in the U.S. are also fearful of getting vaccinated because they’re hesitant to give personal information, local health workers told The Associated Press. The brief pause on Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot dose, while health authorities considered a potential link to rare blood clots, also turned people away, they said.

In some parts of New York, the city has hired people to go door-to-door promoting the shots. The state and city have also been offering incentives, ranging from free fries at Shake Shack to a week of free subway rides.

But incentives are not enough, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “If they don’t see their neighbor getting the vaccine,” he said, “they aren’t getting it.”

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