NEWARK, NJ – “Either we will be part of the solution or we will be one of the statistics … I want us to be part of the solution.” So said an exposed U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who visited Newark on Monday to press for COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Menendez, who was fully vaccinated against the disease, took off his face mask during a press conference to mark the opening of the Hope & Esperanza Community Health Center in Newark’s North Ward.

The move – which is in line with guidelines from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – was intended to “promote the vaccine and its safety,” according to a statement by the senator.

At Monday’s event, Menendez, the senior Latino member of Congress, urged members of the Latino and Black community to get vaccinated “as soon as possible.”

Other prominent New Jersey Latino leaders who are fully vaccinated included New Jersey Senator Teresa Ruiz and Newark Council members Luis Quintana and Anibal Ramos.

Menendez appealed to the African American community, noting that U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka are also fully vaccinated.

Although the racial gap is narrowing, vaccination rates in the Latino and Black communities have lagged since the rollout began, the senator said.

“If you love your neighbor, if you love your family, if you love those you work with, if you love those you adore, you need to get vaccinated,” urged Menendez. “We can end the pandemic and get back to our lives as it once was. But the only way to do that is to get mostly vaccinated.”