NY calls for immigrants and other groups access to vaccine

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and a coalition of organizations called on the federal Department of Health to facilitate access for undocumented communities and other underserved groups to the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a letter sent to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, released Tuesday, Cuomo and 50 religious, union, legal, community and health groups expressed concern that the vaccination program does not allocate funds for communities. African American, Latina, Asian and low-income women who do not have private health services.

The letter calls on the federal Administration to protect these underserved communities.

“We are rapidly moving toward a covid-19 vaccine, which is good news. However, the federal government’s current plan to vaccinate Americans neglects the key priorities we need to effectively distribute the vaccine to millions of New Yorkers,” indicated the governor when announcing the letter, sent today to Azar.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is evaluating the emergency authorization of a vaccine against covid-19 that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer requested, with which the first doses could be available in December. While the Moderna company announced this Monday that it will also request authorization to market its vaccine.

“We need to focus on the African American, Latino, Asian and low-income communities that have historically been neglected by the healthcare institutions that are key to the federal government’s plan,” Cuomo added.

The signatories remind in the letter to the Health Minister that infection and death rates in this pandemic are significantly higher in these underserved communities, and not providing them with an adequate vaccination program, “either by intention or effect, will discriminate against them even plus”.

Cuomo and organizations including the Hispanic Federation, the Civil Liberties Union, the Hispanic Health Network and Latino Commission on AIDS, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Catholic Charities, 32BJ, and Se Hace On the way to New York, they joined other national groups in calling for “a fair and equitable immunization program funded with federal funds.”

They expressed concern to Azar that the federal government requires state governments to execute a Data Sharing Agreement before starting the vaccination program, which could discourage undocumented immigrants from getting vaccinated.

The agreement requires that each vaccinated person be identified, and the federal government suggests that states use Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, or passport numbers.

“Obviously, this provision raises concerns since the proposed criteria are all substitutes for the citizenship test. The concern is compounded by an additional federal provision in the Agreement that specifically states that the information could be shared with other federal agencies,” they noted.

They warned that “if the undocumented are discouraged from participating in the vaccination program, both their health and the effectiveness of the entire program would be jeopardized.”

They highlighted that New York has proposed two modifications to address this situation. It will provide an identification system to effectively track vaccinated individuals and required doses that does not identify the driver’s Social Security number, passport number, or driver number.

Additionally, the federal government must agree to keep identifying information private as with any other health matter and not to share it with any non-health agency for any other purpose.

“It is in everyone’s interest that we all work together to encourage our respective residents to participate in the vaccination program,” they stated.

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