A new year welcomes new doors. The City is prepared to roll up their sleeves so New Yorkers can roll up theirs for the shot.

Hillcrest High School was recently announced as the vaccination hub for our local healthcare workers. The plan to open local inoculation centers comes as New York lags far behind other regions in distributing the coveted COVID-19 vaccines. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the plan to accelerate the vaccine distribution with centers in high density boroughs.

The program is designed to help New York reach one million doses distributed by the first of February. In Queens, the launch is set to kick off Sunday, January 10, from the Jamaica Avenue educational center.

At a Monday morning press conference, de Blasio said, “This is the shape of things to come,” adding “You’re going to see a lot more like this, using public school buildings as hubs for a larger community.”

There has been a lot of talk about creating mass vaccination locations, dubbed, “Mass Vax Sites” throughout New York City, as the government takes on the quest to stick 100,000 New Yorkers a week with the vaccines from these locations. “We want to make sure – whatever it takes logistically and whatever it takes in community outreach,” the mayor added.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been criticizing for the slow vaccine rollout in the state, where nobody 75 and over has been vaccinated. Even the doses given have declined each day, as direction on its distribution seems to be lacking. The mayor and governor are once again at odds, accusing one another for the slow response. De Blasio wants the governor to help state hospitals vaccinate and not spend his time finding ways to penalize those not distributing the vaccine fast enough. Cuomo places the blame on the hospitals for failing to efficiently vaccinate.

The vaccine will work for most people, but it will not work for everyone. There is no knowledge yet how long protection will last or if a revaccination will be needed. Even after you are vaccinated, you will still need to practice these important COVID-19 prevention steps: stay home if sick, wash your hands, wear a face covering, and keep physical distance from others.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized applications for emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. In clinical trials, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were shown to be safe and be greater than 94% effective at preventing symptoms and decreasing severe COVID-19 infection among study volunteers. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work by teaching the body to create an immune response for a virus that is not present in the body. Both vaccines have shown to have mild to moderate side effects, including soreness or swelling on the arm where you got the shot, headache, body aches, tiredness, and fever, but the vaccine cannot give one the virus. Side effects usually go away within two to three days. Most importantly, COVID-19 vaccines may not be widely available to the general public until mid-2021.

The vaccine will be available in stages. It is currently being offered to people who work in health care and other people at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or of severe COVID-19 illness. The vaccine has also been made available to first responders and nursing home residents and staff. The vaccine will then be made available to essential workers who interact with the public and who are not able to physically distance and people at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 because of age or underlying medical conditions. The vaccines currently in trials have not yet been studied in children younger than 16. They will not be available to that age group until more information is available.

There are also plans to send the vaccines to communities hit hardest by the pandemic to be fair and equitable in distributing the vaccine. By the FDA granting an Emergency Use Authorization, the agency has decided that the benefits of a vaccine outweigh its potential risks.

So, what is the vaccine? The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, meaning they provide instructions to our cells. The vaccines teach our cells how to create an immune response so that the body knows how to fight the virus if it is later exposed to the virus. Once your body learns how to create the immune response, it breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA.

The process of getting vaccinated requires a person to receive two separate doses. They are administered either three of four weeks apart depending on if the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine was chosen.

To be eligible to receive the vaccine at one of these sites, one much be a doctor or nurse. Other medical professionals who qualify are phlebotomists, dentists, physical therapists, coroners, funeral workers, testing site workers, contact tracers, outpatients and ambulatory care providers, NYPD medical staff, and staff at specialty clinics like dialysis centers. Teachers and school staff are next to be added to the list of those hoping to get vaccinated. Some healthcare workers in Queens have already begun to receive their second doses of the vaccine.

Hillcrest High School as well as the Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn, and the South Bronx Educational Campus are among the middle schools and high schools that have never reopened from the COVID-19 lockdown and will also be used as vaccination centers. By the end of January, the 125 vaccination sites are planned to double. Visit nyc.gov/covidvaccine to learn where you can get inoculated.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein