One One Dutty Build Dam

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Aminta Kilawan-Narine and the author doing outreach to an upcoming pop-up vaccine clinic. Photo by Debora Chaitlall.

By Amanda Deebrah, South Queens Women’s March

As a child of Indo-Guyanese immigrants who grew up with discrimination under the Burnham administration, I understand wholeheartedly the mistrust of government. Despite generational mistrust of the government, the response at the outbreak of COVID-19, back in March 2020 on the city, state, and federal level was appalling.

Many innocent lives were lost because of being reactive instead of proactive – much of them being from our own friends, families, and neighbors. If you’re feeling hesitant about the government and the vaccine, please know you are not alone. As the 2 year anniversary of the outbreak in NYC approaches, it is important to reflect on the fact that it was the community that kept us together and had our backs. When elected officials failed us, we had each other. When the system failed us, we had each other. With the uncertainty of the virus, all we can do is try to keep each other safe.

A few months after the outbreak of the pandemic, frustrated with the lack of resources and support for middle/working-class families, I joined the newly formed movement-building non-profit South Queens Women’s March (SQWM) as a way to uplift and empower our local community. When Queens became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic among the entire country, it was evident that we needed nonprofits to help us. A couple months short of the anniversary of the outbreak in January 2021, South Queens, primarily Richmond Hill and Ozone Park, had the highest positivity rates in the entire city. On January 14th, the positivity rates were 15.93% in Ozone Park (highest in the city), 15.58% in South Ozone Park (second highest in the city), and 15.52% in Richmond Hill (third highest in the city). On January 15th, the positivity rates were 15.94% in South Ozone Park (highest in the city), 15.76% in Ozone Park (second highest in the city), and 15.32% in Richmond Hill (third highest in the city).

Author speaking with a community member about vaccines at Singh’s Roti Shop, January 2022.

On January 16th, the positivity rates were 15.86% in Ozone Park (second highest in the city), 14.91% in South Ozone Park (third highest in the city), and 14.72% in South Ozone Park (fifth highest in the city). With the lives of our neighbors on our minds, we hit the ground running. In less than 2 days, SQWM Founder and Executive Director Aminta Kilawan-Narine and I, along with videographer Leeanna Hariprashad worked on releasing a PSA, encouraging folks to take precautions to stop the spread. We featured local news outlets and first-hand accounts of residents of Queens speaking about the high rates we were experiencing. In addition, we held a “community conversation” about the facts of the vaccine. On February 10, 2021, we had this discussion about what vaccines are, their side effects, who was currently eligible at that time to be vaccinated, and where people can get the COVID-19 vaccine. Our speakers were experts in the field: Dr. Olusimbo Ige, the Assistant Commissioner at the Bureau of Health Equity and Angela Soto, the Project Officer of the Vaccine Task Force at the NYC DOHMH. Despite having the highest rates in the city for consecutive weeks, access to the vaccine was still limited. That prompted us to work with a local church and the city to expedite vaccine access. Here we are one year after that, still fighting for our community. South Queens has once again, in January 2022, become the home of the highest positivity rates in the city. Unlike last year, access to the vaccine is largely available and many community members we’ve spoken to are aware of where to get the vaccine.

South Queens Women’s March leaders and members with Grand Care Pharmacy at their pop-up vaccine clinic at New York Hindu Milan Mandir, February 2022.

However, we are still working to encourage folks who may be hesitant to get the vaccine. Since our latest outbreak, we have held two pop up vaccination sites and outreach efforts to folks at locations with heavy foot traffic, including Singh’s Roti Shop. We’re gladly reporting that a majority of people we have spoken to have said that they received their vaccine and some gleefully mention that they also have their booster. For those who are skeptical of the vaccine, you are seen and heard. We understand that this is a decision that should not be taken lightly and are willing to support you. We understand that some may think that the vaccines were made too fast but scientists developed the COVID-19 vaccines quickly because of resources and collaboration. We understand that some may think natural remedies can protect them against COVID-19 but there is no scientific evidence that vitamins or natural remedies protect against COVID-19. We understand that some may think they’re healthy so they don’t need to be vaccinated but young or otherwise healthy people who are unvaccinated have gotten very sick and died from COVID-19. We understand that some may think that natural immunity they get from COVID-19 is better than the immunity they get from COVID-19 vaccination, but getting a COVID-19 vaccination is a safer and more dependable way to build immunity to COVID-19 than getting sick with COVID-19. We understand that some may think that the COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, but the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain microchips. Vaccines are developed to fight against disease and are not administered to track your movement. We understand that some may think that the COVID-19 vaccine can make them sick with COVID-19, but because none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, the vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

After all, with the uncertainty of the virus, all we can do is try to keep each other safe. As they say, one one dutty build dam (every little bit counts towards the end goal)! If you’d like to schedule your vaccine appointment, visit https://vaccinefinder.nyc.gov.
If you need support doing so, you can call or text me at 347-370-9023.