Following Emergence Of NY Variant, City Moves To Boost Vaccination In Washington Heights

The city is planning to open additional vaccine sites in Washington Heights and Inwood, the neighborhoods where one of the new variants of the coronavirus was first spotted in late February. Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement at a press conference Friday after being asked about what residents of the Upper Manhattan communities should do to help beat the pandemic.

“Every single one of us has to keep doing the smart things—not one but two masks whenever possible and the social distancing,” de Blasio said. “But it’s our obligation as the city to ensure that vaccination and testing is provided with special emphasis on the communities hardest hit by COVID, like Washington Heights.”

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In the ZIP codes encompassing Washington Heights and Inwood, between 9% and 13% of adults have been fully vaccinated, according to city data. That’s in line with the citywide rate of 10% but much lower than other neighborhoods in the borough. For instance, 27% of adults have been fully vaccinated on the Upper East Side.

Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city health commissioner elaborated on the plan, which he said is intended to add to the existing sites there. At the news conference, Chokshi said they’re looking at “pharmacies and community clinics that are already vaccinating in that area.” He added that the new hubs are part of a broader strategy, which involves the new clinics in Bronx’s Co-Op City as well as Bed-Stuy.

The mayor said there’s not yet a set date for new vaccine sites to open and that it largely depends on supply of the vaccines received from the federal government. On Thursday, U.S. Senate Majority leader Charles Schumer pledged to provide support to create more than 100 federally-funded vaccine hubs, though no timetable was provided on those clinics, too.

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The B.1526 variant discovered in Washington Heights—which city health officials said spreads faster than the original virus—appears to be coursing through the city and now accounts for about 39% of total coronavirus cases, a figure that’s similar in Washington Heights.

Dr. David Ho, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia who helped discover the variant, told Gothamist/WNYC on Friday that it accounts for about 36% of cases observed at Washington Heights’ Columbia University Medical Center.

So far, health officials don’t believe the new strain reduces the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines against severe disease.