From Our CEO
February 12th, 2021

It's the shot in the arm we all need.

Effective vaccines are key to ending this pandemic, and with more transmittable variants spreading, New Yorkers need to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. But as we know the rollout has been anything but smooth, and at this point, there’s also not enough supply. If you've tried to sign up for an appointment for yourself or a loved one, you know it requires a combination of web savvy, endless patience, and plain luck. No surprise then that some of the most vulnerable — particularly Holocaust survivors and isolated elderly — are having an incredibly difficult time navigating the system.

Another issue is vaccine education. A recent poll by the Association for a Better New York found that 42% of New Yorkers express hesitancy about getting the vaccine, with many of them feeling they don’t have enough information about the vaccine to make an informed decision about whether to take it. Some of the hardest-hit communities, including Haredi Jews and communities of color, are among the most vaccine hesitant. For some people, it stems from a general mistrust of government on health issues.

Over the last few weeks, UJA has been working furiously on vaccine access and education, tackling both challenges on multiple fronts.

There’s no magic to securing appointments. We've been leveraging every relationship we have, connecting our nonprofit network to hospitals and vaccination sites. Our focus has been on helping Holocaust survivors and the isolated elderly — people who don’t have family to stay up all night and hit refresh — or those dealing with language barriers.

Yesterday, for example, we partnered with Mobile Health and arranged a pop-up vaccine site for Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans at the Marks JCH of Bensonhurst, a UJA partner. You can read about how the amazing effort came together here and here. Our funding also ensures that clients have the transportation and other assistance they need to go to and from appointments.

Already, we’ve secured more than 600 appointments for Holocaust survivors and the elderly. Among them, a survivor named Maria, who came this week to get her vaccine, accompanied by a caring worker from Commonpoint Queens, another UJA partner. You can see Maria's story here.

On one track, we're working appointment by appointment. On another, we're looking to impact the system more broadly. Our government relations team sits on a number of city and state vaccine task forces, advocating on our network’s behalf and learning critical information in real time. We've been partnering with the Greater New York Hospital Association to secure vaccines and advocating for essential agency workers to gain eligibility, including those who are a part of the charitable food system: people delivering meals to homes, working in food pantries, or preparing emergency meals. We’re also advocating for UJA’s partner agencies to become vaccine sites, knowing that agencies are trusted within communities, and clients coming in for one service might choose to get a vaccine at the same time.

Additionally, we released $220,000 to about 30 grassroots community organizations that are working on vaccine access and education in under-resourced areas. From the Boro Park Jewish Community Council and the Boro Park Y to the Dominico-American Society of Queens, these are organizations that are well known and trusted within their communities. They can share information about vaccines in culturally appropriate ways and help their clients access appointments.

For more information about our work and resources for Holocaust survivors and eligible seniors, click here.

Did we think 11 months ago we’d be in the business of helping people access vaccines? No. But the power of UJA is our ability quickly to pivot, using our deep network relationships and resources to address the most pressing issues in our community, whatever those needs might be at the moment.

So right now, we’re helping to make sure that the most vulnerable New Yorkers get vaccinated. And we’ll keep at it as long as needed. Shot by shot.

Shabbat shalom