COVID-19 vaccine seekers flocked from across the city and the state to hard-hit Washington Heights on Wednesday in search of the shot — including one couple who were whisked away in a limousine.
Upper Manhattan’s Fort Washington Armory, transformed into an inoculation site by a nearby NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital location, remained one of just a few city vaccination sites still operating this week despite a widespread shortage of shots.
But, as The City reported Tuesday, many of those showing up for jabs hailed from outside the hard-hit neighborhood — and the site was at the time lacking in Spanish-speaking staffers to assist largely Hispanic locals.
Though The Post encountered Spanish-speaking workers on Wednesday, the former trend persisted.
“We’re relieved,” said Carol, an elderly woman who traveled with her husband from the Upper East Side to get jabbed. “We have been trying to get an appointment for two months. It’s crazy.”
Carol, who declined to give her last name, and her husband — who declined to be identified at all — were picked up after their appointment by a black Cadillac limousine, their driver waiting with their small dog in tow.
“You have to fight for it,” said Carol’s husband with a laugh, when asked if he felt the vaccine was being distributed fairly.
Following outrage over news of outsiders coming to get jabbed, NewYork-Presbyterian announced late Wednesday that appointments at the site would now only go to New York City residents — and a minimum of 60 percent would be reserved for residents of Washington Heights, Inwood, Northern and Central Harlem and South Bronx. All existing appointments will still be honored.
Earlier that day, Min Ye had driven about three hours down from upstate Schoharie County to ensure her mom, 78, and dad, 80, could get vaccinated after snagging an appointment online the day before.
She explained that her parents have an apartment in Midtown Manhattan, but have temporarily been living with her upstate.
“They just been living upstate. They still have their apartment,” she said. “We feel we are part of this community as well.”
Judy Stevens, 76, defended traveling from the Upper West Side for her vaccine, saying that Big Apple is one large community.
“This is New York City and, to me, you give it to everyone who needs it. The people here can get on the computer just like everyone else,” said Stevens, whose daughter scored her an appointment through the hospital earlier Wednesday. “We’re all in one place, but let’s not divide each other. We’re all in the city of New York. We’re all residents.”
Erica Smith brought in her 88-year-old mother, who has a pacemaker, for a vaccine.
“I told them about my mother’s heart condition and they told me to bring her right in,” said Smith, referring to hospital workers.
Smith, who along with her mom lives in Washington Heights, said that she has no problem with outsiders coming in for the jabs.
“It’s a health situation, so why do you want to help just people in [your] neighborhood?” she asked.
The mayor, however, blasted the practice during a press briefing on Wednesday morning.
“I’m really troubled by what I’m hearing,” de Blasio said. “Here you have a site in the middle of an incredibly hard-hit neighborhood, a community largely of immigrants, a Latino community that was one of the places that bore the brunt of the COVID crisis.
“I want to see Columbia Presbyterian do everything they can to reach the surrounding community,” he continued. “That should be the mandate. That should be the focus of that center, period. Plenty of period want the vaccine in the community.”
Hizzoner went on to say that the vaccination effort can’t be seen as favoring people more “privileged” than others.
“The whole idea of a successful vaccination effort must be community-based,” he said. “And community people have to see those sites are really for them, and they’re not being somehow left out of sites in their own community. So this needs to be fixed right away.”
On the citywide level, de Blasio acknowledged that both public and private hospitals could be doing a better job of ensuring that paperwork and appointments related to the vaccination process were available in languages beyond English and Spanish.
“It’s a huge, sprawling effort, but we’ve got to make sure it’s as inclusive as possible,” said de Blasio, pressed on whether the city could compel private facilities to offer materials in other languages commonly spoken throughout the city, including Chinese, French, Creole and Russian.
“It sounds like none of them are sure,” said de Blasio, as his request that the three city medical experts on the line weigh in was met with a lengthy silence. “If we don’t have the ability to order it, we really have to really, very aggressively make sure [that it’s implemented].”
When Hizzoner turned to the doctors for answers on forms in public, city-run hospitals, there was again a pregnant pause.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. When The New York Post is right, they’re right,” said de Blasio. “The actual forms to sign-up for the appointments need to be in languages other than just English and Spanish if we’re really going to maximize access. So, we will get to work on fixing that.”
The lack of translations is not the first time the city’s vaccination effort has been criticized over accessibility issues.
Senior citizens have panned the city’s convoluted online registration system for freezing them out even though they’re among those most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
In a statement, New York-Presbyterian said: An ongoing engagement initiative is focused on reaching eligible Northern Manhattan residents and getting them registered for appointments. This process is being undertaken in partnership with more than 40 community-based and faith-based organizations and other partners, and is focused on providing access, overcoming hesitancy and addressing persistent inequities.”