Jessica Cruz contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, but she refuses to get vaccinated. She just doesn’t trust the vaccine.
“I have family that done it and I’m just praying later on in the future, symptoms you know, nothing happens years down the line because you took the vaccine,” said Cruz.
Her hesitancy reflects her neighborhood’s low COVID-19 vaccination rate in general. Far Rockaway has one of the lowest in the city. Only 26% are fully vaccinated in the neighborhood, versus 50% boroughwide and 45% citywide.
“There’s a lot of hesitancy around the vaccine,” said Dr. Miriam Vega. “A lot of people wonder how a vaccine was developed so quickly.”
Vega is the CEO of the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center in Far Rockaway. She said the city’s slow rollout of the vaccine caused mistrust to take root here even though Far Rockaway was one of the hardest hit areas during the pandemic.
She also said limited access to health facilities on the peninsula has made it more difficult for people in the area to get vaccinated.
"Otherwise they have to travel rather far to get care. So we’re talking access and availability of vaccines and all that may have compounded some of the initial mistrust around the vaccine itself,” said Dr. Vega.
Dr. Vega explained that immigrants in the community have found it difficult to take time off from work to get vaccinated. The health center is now offering vaccines on weekends to counter that. The center is also reaching out to bodegas and other businesses in the neighborhood to convince residents to get vaccinated.
“I feel good. I mean there’s a sense of freedom, I can go anywhere I want,” said Far Rockaway resident Rachel Afolabi.
She doesn’t need convincing. Afolabi has been fully vaccinated two weeks now. She’s already making plans to resume one of her favorite hobbies.
“I really look forward to traveling,” said Afolabi.