While getting a vaccine appointment in New York City may still be a bit frustrating, it is no longer as arduous as it was during the first few months of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. In fact, demand rather than supply is likely to be the constraining issue soon, according to Dave A. Chokshi, MD, MSc, FACP, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That change “will feel like it is happening overnight,” he told members of United Hospital Fund’s Quality Leaders Forum on April 7.
In a virtual “fireside chat” moderated by UHF president Anthony Shih, MD, Dr. Chokshi, who was named NYC’s health commissioner in August 2020, told participants that he is committed to ensuring that the vaccine rollout is not only safe and swift, but equitable. “We’re not where we need to be on reaching the people and neighborhoods hardest hit or places where historical injustices are overlaid.”
To ensure that underserved neighborhoods and the elderly have access to the vaccine, the city is expanding programs to vaccinate the homebound and setting up pop-up sites in communities far from the larger city vaccination sites. Health department staff are working to boost vaccine confidence by partnering with churches, synagogues, and other trusted community voices to deliver the message that the vaccines are safe and free, and that the benefits outweigh the risks.
“We do have a long way to go,” he acknowledged, and cautioned that the emerging presence of coronavirus variants and the slow rollout of vaccination efforts globally could impede reaching “herd immunity” in New York. Still, he said, vaccination is the path to controlling the pandemic, and more widespread uptake is urgent.
Dr. Chokshi spoke movingly of the parallel pandemics that the city faces—not only COVID-19, but the trauma that health care workers have experienced over the past year, growing food insecurity, the nested epidemic of overdose deaths, and forgone care by people who delayed treatment for other conditions out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. “We must focus resources and urgent attention on all those things because the city’s health and economic vitality are linked,” he cautioned.
“We have to take advantage of this moment and call for massive investment in public health and its workforce,” he said. The one book he had time to read in the last six months, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, reminded him that, as devastating as that 1918 influenza pandemic was, it is often referred to now as the “forgotten pandemic” because when it was over “everyone went back to business as usual.”
Dr. Chokshi urged the attendees to do “everything we can do to get people to share their stories about why they chose to get the vaccine and their experiences with the process. We have to create that snowball effect.”
Participants in the Quality Leaders Forum, organized in collaboration with Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), included alumni from the UHF/GNYHA Clinical Quality Fellowship Program and honorees from UHF’s Tribute to Excellence in Health Care. Members are invited to network and discuss current issues in health care quality with nationally recognized quality leaders and to pursue opportunities for sharing best practices.
UHF is grateful to Elaine and David Gould, whose generosity supports the Quality Leaders Forum.