Homebound Seniors Forgotten in Vaccination Rollout, Pol Charges

Senior Woman Comforting Man With Depression At Home. Illustration from 123rf


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has vowed to create a plan to vaccinate homebound seniors after a push from two southern Brooklyn lawmakers, according to a representative for Councilmember Mark Treyger. 

City Councilmember Mark Treyger

“Here we are, facing a global pandemic, with thousands of New Yorkers who have lost their lives,” said Treyger, who represents Coney Island, Bensonhurst, and Gravesend, in late January. “We still don’t have a comprehensive and cohesive plan to vaccinate homebound seniors or even an adequate plan to vaccinate seniors in general.”

Though the city already offers free transportation for seniors to vaccine sites, the lawmakers argued that an at-home vaccination effort would speed up herd immunization in Brooklyn, which houses the largest population of seniors in the state.

New York residents over the age of 65 have been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine since Jan. 12, but only 214,000 seniors have been inoculated so far, according to city data. The slow rollout has mostly been caused by the city’s vaccine shortage, although locals have also blamed the disparity on the Health Department’s confusing scheduling system.

One Bensonhurst resident says many seniors have struggled to make appointments online, and that the insufficient translation services have made it difficult for Chinese locals to get the information they need. 

“A lot of seniors in our neighborhood can’t speak English at all and they don’t know how to use a computer,” said Dr. Tim Law, a member of Bensonhurst’s Community Board 11. “They want to take the vaccine — they want to do it, but they cannot do it.”

To make matters worse, vaccine shortages have forced vaccination hubs to close and open seemingly at random, confusing residents and even the Health Department.

Last weekend, a new vaccination site at Lincoln High School in Coney Island sat empty because appointments were not made available online, even though plenty of doses were on the site.

New Yorkers who heard about the snafu traveled to Lincoln High School and got vaccinated without an appointment. The incident wasn’t the first time seniors relied on social media to get the vaccine — last month, New Yorkers traveled to the Brooklyn Army Terminal from as far as Long Island after hearing that workers were giving out surplus doses to walk-in patients.

Other southern Brooklyn seniors have said they’ve been unable to make appointments near their neighborhoods, and have been routed to sites in the south Bronx instead.

Senator Diane Savino
Senator Diane Savino (credit: Thomas Altfather Good)
State Senator Andrew Gounardes
State Senator Andrew Gounardes

“We continue to hear reports of residents being unable to make appointments in our local communities, in addition to being unable to make appointments because of lack of vaccine supply,” said Bay Ridge state Sen. Andrew Gounardes. “Neither issue has been resolved — we need more vaccine sites in southern Brooklyn as well as greater supply from the federal government.”

To ease the vaccine’s rollout, Treyger and southern Brooklyn state Sen. Diane Savino are asking the city to partner with more senior providers who could provide transportation to vaccination sites and create senior-only hours at the city-run centers. 

“We know the most vulnerable among us is our senior citizen population and as community leaders we must do our part to ensure that we develop a comprehensive plan to get them vaccinated, including those that are homebound,” said Savino. 

Since the lawmakers’ calls, the de Blasio administration has formed a task force to look into the issue, but has not yet finalized a plan, according to Maria Henderson, a spokeswoman for Councilmember Treyger.

A rep with the Department of Health had not heard about the plan or the task force as of Wednesday morning, but said that the city’s biggest obstacle is currently the dwindling number of vaccines.

“The single greatest challenge to vaccinating eligible New Yorkers is a lack of supply,” said Patrick Donahue. “Our capacity to distribute is much greater than our supply of vaccine. The limited doses we have will be exhausted by the end of the weekend.”

This story first appeared in our sister site the Brooklyn Paper.