NEWARK, NJ – Less than a quarter of Newark residents are fully vaccinated. However, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge said the Biden-Harris administration is determined to increase those numbers.
Along with local health professionals and local officials, Fudge visited Wynona Lipman Gardens Thursday to attend a mobile pop-up clinic hosted by Saint James Health. Pop-up clinics, aimed at improving access to the city’s most underserved communities, have been one of the city’s most persistent methods of providing access rather than relying on larger vaccination sites.
As of May 6, more than 100 million U.S. citizens were fully vaccinated, but the numbers in as many underserved communities across the country as Newark tell a different story. In a city where around 22% of residents are fully vaccinated, the Cleveland-born HUD secretary stressed that the Biden-Harris government must do more for its minorities.
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“Everyone in communities like this needs to be vaccinated because I care about the people in those communities,” Fudge said at a press conference. “I have families in these churches. I have friends in the churches. I grew up in these churches. “
In Newark, a recent decreased need for vaccines has temporarily closed a county-run vaccination facility at Donald Payne School while the Essex County College clinic allows walk-in appointments.
Since vaccines first became available in December 2020, city officials have made various efforts to reach as many residents as possible.
One way officials have worked to increase the number of vaccinations is to reduce hesitation in the predominantly black and brown communities.
This hesitation can in some ways be related to longstanding distrust of the medical establishment and government, largely due to the Tuskegee study in the 20th century. The study, which enlisted unsuspecting black men to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis, made many African Americans persistently reluctant to practice any medicine, including vaccinations.
In February, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka joined several community religious leaders as they received their vaccines and encouraged residents to follow suit. The idea, officials said, was that residents would be more willing to receive the vaccine if they saw their religious leaders receive one. The move came about a week after Essex County officials announced partnerships with religious leaders from the area’s black and brown communities to get their vaccines.
Then in March city officials teamed up with a local equitable vaccines initiative led by community leaders to improve access to vaccines in minority communities.
Although the city is also home to one of the state’s largest vaccination centers on the campus of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Baraka told TAPinto Newark on the day the site opened that the plan would shift to smaller efforts to overcome the accessibility barrier for Residents.
“These mega-centers don’t necessarily work in our community as they do in other people’s communities,” he said. “Getting access to smaller places like schools, churches and other things that we did – I think that was more effective.”
While city officials have not yet released a formal plan to improve vaccination numbers and reduce vaccination hesitation, Baraka said during a Facebook Live COVID update that the city may reach out to the state for assistance.
“The state has twice the vaccination rate we have in Newark,” he said. “You have to devote significant resources to places like Newark. You have to come into our community and make sure the vaccination rates are higher and get vaccinations in all of these parts of the city.”