August 15, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – New York City kids will be returning to class in just a few short weeks, but many of them living in Queens and the Bronx could be turned away because the only public immunization clinics left in their boroughs offering free vaccinations are slated to shut down before September. (Watch Video)
“It’s just uncanny that we’re hearing that we may not have this resource because we refer all our parents to these clinics,” PS/IS 270 nurse Sharon Braxton told LaborPress on Wednesday morning.
Labor groups, community activists and elected official only last week became aware of the Health Department’s intention to shutter two of the the city’s three remaining walk-in immunization clinics by the end of this month.
Councilwoman Letitia James – representing the Ft. Greene section of Brooklyn where the last public immunization clinic in New York City could become the only option for many – has planned to hold hearings to stop the closures.
In the meantime, children’s advocates, public health watchdogs and organized labor are worried what will happen come September when students try to enter class without their immunization records.
“There are thousands of children who legally have got to be immunized, Local 768 President Fitz Reid said this week outside the Corona walk-in clinic in Queens. “The mayor and his administration did not inform anyone about this. The parents around here do not know what’s going on. The City Council does not know what’s going on. No information was given. This should not be allowed to continue.”
Last year, the walk-in clinics slated for closure immunized tens of thousands of people. But the Health Department is unfazed, arguing that “less than one-percent of all vaccinations in the city” occur at its clinics. The city is also unconcerned about the potential for huge numbers of unvaccinated students showing up for class this semester, saying that free or low-cost vaccinations are actually available through 22 providers in Queens, and 50 more in the Bronx.
However, in addition to doing nothing to clearly identify those providers, critics of the waning Bloomberg administration say that the providers the Health Department cites are problematic on many different levels.
Local 436 President Judith Arroyo of the United Federation of Nurses & Epidemiologists, for instance, questions their ability to handle the volume of people in need of free vaccinations, as well as the ability of those providers to make vaccines financially affordable.
“Look what happened with the flu at the pharmacies,” Arroyo said. “First they started out free. Then they said, ‘Okay, you have to pay $5.’ Now, you’re paying $20 to go into a pharmacy for a flu shot you can get [at the walk-in clinic] for free.”
According to Braxton, families turn to the city’s walk-in immunization clinics when vaccinations are not readily available at their doctor’s office.
“Sometimes, we might hear that a doctor doesn’t have a vaccine available, that’s another reason why we send them to the clinic,” Braxton said. “We’ve had children sitting around waiting for their doctors to get vaccines. And it’s not necessary. They can come to the clinic, get their vaccine, and come right back to school.”
Anthony Feliciano, director of the Commission of the Public’s Health System, charges that for years the Health Department has been “trying to get away from their responsibility to provide public health and direct services to lower income communities of color.”
“We need to ask them what is their real core duty,” Feliciano said. “What do they believe that they want to do?”
Braxton fears just what September might bring to New York City public schools should the Health Department be successful in shutting down its immunization clinics.
“There may be a lot of children out of school because principals cannot have children sitting in school that have not been immunized,” Braxton said.
New York State Senator Jose Peralta – representing the 13th District in Queens where the Corona walk-in immunization clinic slated to close is located – is among a growing list of elected officials urging Mayor Bloomberg to back off on plans to close the clinics.
“Why are we shutting them down?” State Senator Peralta said. “It’s an outrage. Let’s stop this nonsense. Let’s keep this clinic open.”