From the limited language options on the vaccination appointment phone line and website to the lack of distribution centers in the neighborhoods they represent, City Council members spoke out about their frustrations with the city’s rollout plan at a hearing on Tuesday.

What You Need To Know

  • Lawmakers pushed back against city health officials during a hearing on the vaccine distribution on Tuesday

  • Concerns over accessibility and the low number of vaccinations given out so far were expressed by city elected officials

  • Language barriers and the lack of vaccination sites in the neighborhoods they serve were also a high priority for councilmembers

Though the city set a goal of one million doses for New Yorkers by the end of January, just 239,324 doses had been administered by January 12. Last week, the city's public hospital vaccination rate was far below expectations with only 144,000 people receiving a vaccine out of 917,000 eligible health care workers, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

And the expansion of vaccination eligibility on Monday for everyone in category “1B,” which includes people 75 years and older, was plagued by complaints of inaccessibility for many older adults across the city. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi as well as First Deputy Commissioner Dr. Torian Easterling responded to questions, but many council members pushed back on what they considered to be boilerplate answers.

“Let me try to go a level deeper then with respect to vaccinations and the work we have been undertaking,” said Dr. Chokshi after getting pushback. “And, first I should say, we have set big ambitious goals. They will be difficult, certainly, but I do think we can reach them.”

“You have to have these goals,” said Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan, referencing the city’s January goal. “All these things are no-brainers. We’re in a health-freaking-crisis. I don’t see the sense of urgency. I don't see management on high alert to fix these problems.”

Not only were council members concerned about the limited capacity to distribute the vaccine, including only recently opened 24/7 sites, but also the difficulties people have faced trying to make appointments as eligibility expands.

“There are multiple websites which are causing massive confusion amongst the residents of District 28,” said Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, who represents southeast Queens, about the various registration portals people have to navigate to find available appointments.

The language options as of Tuesday were still limited to English and Spanish, despite New York City having some of the most languages spoken in the country. 

“We have really worked on our sites to make sure that we have—working with contracted vendors so we are offering languages other than English and Spanish as we are ramping up our schedule call line,” said Dr. Easterling. 

“We’ll make sure to get back to you on the details as far as next steps, but I do know this is important for us," he added.

But council members such as Carlos Menchaca were visibly frustrated by this response.

“This is the same response that we get every time when we’re doing any kind of piece of the rollout, but it’s not only disappointing, it’s incredibly dangerous,” he said. 

He wasn’t the only council member pushing back on health officials’ responses. 

“What I’m hearing is that ‘we’re thinking about, we’re thinking about, and we’re planning,’” said Councilwoman Adams. “People are dying in my district right now.”

On Tuesday, the city’s reported COVID-19 cases on a seven-day average reached 5,068 and the percent of city residents who tested positive hit 8.15%.