Dr. Torian Easterling was back at a mass vaccination site in Canarsie, Brooklyn Monday.
“You have to do it today!" an intake worker told him, before beginning a list of questions: "Are you feeling sick today?”
Back where he got his first dose; Back where he volunteered with other city workers; Back for the second shot to inoculate him against the virus that has disproportionately affected New Yorkers who look like him.
“I don’t feel much," Easterling told the nurse vaccinating him.
Easterling is the city Health Department’s first deputy commissioner and chief equity officer.
While data released six weeks ago show Black and Latino New Yorkers were getting vaccines at far lower rates than white residents, he said the city has made strides since then.
“How many appointments do you have scheduled for today?” he asked a site worker.
That day, about 1,000 people got doses at Canarsie High School, the crowd predominantly racial minorities.
Easterling says public opinion polls and town hall meetings have shown more non-white New Yorkers want to be vaccinated.
He adds that distrust runs deep — including within his own extended family — but the burden is not on the communities.
He said inequities aren't just in health care.
“We’re talking about years and decades of disinvestment in communities of color and particularly Black and brown communities," Easterling says. "You can look at practices and policies like redlining.”
And so, through difficult conversations, with the help of community partners and by getting vaccinated themselves to show it’s safe, Easterling and his colleagues are overcoming the skepticism sown by structural racism.
“I think, ultimately, making sure that we’re supporting everyone’s decision and we’re making folks feel comfortable and normalizing hesitancy and the idea of questions and concerns,” he said.
The process takes perseverance, but with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now in the city, Easterling expects it’ll get easier.
“We continue to message that the best vaccine is the one you can get in your arm," he says.