Town hall informs about COVID vaccines for kids

By Jessica Meditz

As summer begins to fizzle out and school is in sight, many parents are on the fence about how to best protect their child against COVID-19.

The hesitancy is shown in the vaccination rates for Queens.

Although over 2.1 million Queens residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the New York State Department of Health revealed that as of July 25, just 2.5 percent of residents under age five have received at least one vaccine shot.

To inform the community and advocate for them to get their children vaccinated, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards held a virtual informational session, which was co-sponsored by City Council Committee on Health Chair and District 29 Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, and City Council Committee on General Welfare Chair and District 8 Councilwoman Diana Ayala.

The CDC recommended the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines for kids ages six months and older in June, and various agencies continue to emphasize the safe and effective nature of vaccines.

“It is so important to reiterate what the DOH has been saying. The vaccine is safe, effective, and comes at no cost to New Yorkers,” Richards said.

“With new variants emerging, it is important to get our children vaccinated before school begins in September. We have come so far since the pandemic began, but we must continue to be diligent,” he continued. “I realize there may be some hesitancy if the vaccines are safe for our children. We must come together as a community and not be afraid of what we need to do to get our community back to full strength.”

Richards reassured Queens residents that his office has and will continue to be a resource for those who need assistance in finding an appointment, and that pop up events for kids under five will be held in the coming weeks.

Schulman echoed his sentiment, sharing that a friend of hers recently experienced treating their infant for COVID, which was a painful experience.

“Kids under 5 are just developing their immune systems, so it’s so important to get vaccinated,” Schulman said.

“We have the science now to show that vaccination is key to making sure that we don’t get sick, that we don’t go to the hospital and more importantly that people don’t die,” she continued. “Kids seem to get affected more so with COVID than adults do in terms of the symptoms and other factors.”

Mental Hygiene Assistant Commissioner of Health Equity Dr. Olusimbo Ige pointed out that we are 29 months into the pandemic, and that “although things are getting better, weare not out of the woods yet.”

Ige presented data that showed how children are affected by the virus, which demonstrated how little ones under the age of four, despite having a lower case rate, had more hospitalizations.

“Up until now, our littlest ones didn’t have the opportunity to get vaccinated, now they do. This is the reason why we want them to be protected, we don’t want to continue to see high hospitalizations among children under the age of five,” she said.

Ige added how children can experience more persistent symptoms of COVID-19, as well as ongoing health problems following their recovery, and that the known complications of the virus are far more dangerous than any risk of a rare, adverse reaction to the vaccine.

“There is a small risk of inflammation of the heart, myocarditis, and surrounding tissue, pericarditis, but this is mostly among adolescents and young adult males. It’s rare, but most people improve quickly with medicine and rest,” she said.

“The risk of myocarditis is reduced by spacing out the first and second dose for those who may be at risk,” she continued. “Serious side effects are rare, and the risks from COVID-19 are much greater.”

Ige also emphasized that the ingredients found in COVID-19 vaccines do not affect puberty or a person’s fertility, and that the COVID shot will not interfere with other vaccinations they may be due for.

One difference between the administration of the vaccine to children under five and other groups is that young ones who receive the Pfizer vaccine will require three doses.

Dr. Hector Florimon, a pediatrician and associate medical director at National Pediatric Center in Queens, also gave a brief presentation, explaining how booster shots are also recommended for everyone ages five and older.

“It’s a privilege to be a physician in this area and to be able to take care of our families and hear your concerns,” he said.

“We are here to answer your questions…I encourage all of my parents and families as they have questions and concerns to make it a dialogue,” Florimon continued. “No question is too silly for us to talk about it.”

For more information about COVID-19 vaccinations, visit, and to find a vaccine, visit or call 877-VAX4NYC (877) 829-4692.

CB6 advocates for enhanced COVID protocols

Locals worry about increased positivity rate

As Omicron and its subvariants, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1 continue to affect New Yorkers, one Queens Community Board is taking action and spreading awareness where the city is lacking.

Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams and health officials discreetly removed the city’s COVID alert system, leaving it up to individuals to assess the data on their own. provides daily, weekly, and monthly data regarding COVID-19 cases, including statistics in certain areas—Kew Gardens, Rego Park, and Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park among some of the most affected.

While positivity rates over 20 percent are already a cause for concern, Heather Beers-Dimitriadis, chair of Queens Community Board 6, worries that the numbers are actually higher than what is being reported.

“We remain concerned that we see an increase, especially in Queens, considering all we have endured in 2020,” Beers-Dimitriadis said. “We are concerned about the statistics, because there’s no longer that self reporting mechanism. So we are concerned that the positivity rate is not as accurate as it could be, because I don’t believe it takes the home testing into account.”

Beers-Dimitriadis argues that at-home COVID tests are important tools for taking precautionary measures, due to their rapid result time and fairly wide availability.

To keep them accessible to residents of Queens, Queens Public Library offers free at-home COVID-19 test kits on a first-come-first-serve basis at every location.

Through a partnership with the city’s Test and Trace Corps, test kits are available for pick up during regular business hours, until an hour before closing—with a limit of two test kits per person.

“When thinking about what [at-home tests] cost over the counter, we want to remove the economic barrier for people and get them to these tests,” Beers-Dimitriadis said. “We are grateful for Queens Public Library being a valued partner in our community, and stepping in here and being a distribution center for these tests.”

Beers-Dimitriadis pointed out that a simple family of four with one COVID-positive person goes through, at a minimum, 21 home tests during that seven-day period.

She added that the CB6 office has had a limited supply of at-home COVID tests as well as other PPE to distribute to the community, courtesy of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi.

In response to the recent surge in cases, Beers-Dimitriadis and Frank Gulluscio, district manager of CB6, penned a letter to Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, asking her to support a short-term mask mandate until positivity rates go down.

In addition to serving Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and Richmond Hill as a councilperson, Schulman also serves as chair of the City Council’s Committee on Health—which has jurisdiction over New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Emergency Medical Services, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

In the letter, CB6 also asks that the City Council work with the MTA to amplify its policy of mask wearing on public transit. One ride on a subway or bus will reveal that as many as half of riders no longer wear their masks in these settings.

Despite this new behavior of subway and bus riders, the MTA continues to inform riders of the mask requirement, through announcements and signage in stations as well as the words “Wear a Mask” in their social media screen names and bios.
Riders who refuse to wear a mask could still face a $50 fine.

“This new highly transmissible variant, plus an increasing number of tourists, coupled with our own neighbors traveling and students in summer programming we set the stage for case numbers to continue to rise,” the letter to Schulman says.
“We recognize that none of us want to go back to full masking, especially in the hottest part of the year. However, we must also recognize how crucial it is to keep our neighbors safe and healthy,” it continues. “We believe that if the variant is not halted in its tracks, it will negatively impact our capacity to get our city and our economy back on track.”

A staffer from Schulman’s office could not confirm or deny that she has seen the letter, but said that the councilwoman has actively been in contact with Mayor Adams to find a feasible solution for the increased case numbers in local communities.
CB6 has also been an advocate for other health issues concerning the city, such as monkeypox and skin cancer during the summer months. They have also shared resources for safe and legal abortions on their Twitter page.

In terms of COVID-19, Beers-Dimitriadis emphasized that the city’s shutdown of the alert system, not taking home tests into account for the data, and lessened presence of the Test and Trace Corps will not stop the community board from working on the ground.

“The ultimate goal is to keep the community safe, keep people able to go to work, keep students able to go to school and do those things safely, and knowingly safely… those tests do that,” she said. “For us as a community board, we want to make sure that we are alerting the community to every opportunity they can to engage with free testing, especially at the convenience of being able to do it at home.”

New COVID-19 testing, vaccine site opens at Astoria Houses

Residents of Western Queens and Astoria Houses now have a new and closer COVID-19 vaccination and testing site made out of repurposed shipping containers.

The temporary medical care unit located just steps from the Astoria Houses Community Center will be operated by NYC-based charity hospital, The Floating Hospital, and will provide free vaccines and tests. The site will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

NYS Gov. Hochul shakes hands with residents of the Astoria Houses

With only a single permanent vaccination site located within a half-mile of Astoria Houses, and just two permanent vaccination sites in the 11102 area code, the lack of access to vaccines has shown higher case and death rates in the area compared to other parts of Queens and New York City.

In the area code 11102, there is a case rate of 30,300 per 100,000 individuals, compared to 13,350 and 12,600 in Queens and New York City, respectively. The death rate within the same zip code is approximately 616 per 100,000, compared to 448 and 408 to the borough and city, respectively.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was joined by NYS Governor Kathy Hochul, NYC Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo, and other community leaders to unveil the new 40-foot-long medical care center in the courtyard of the housing complex.

“We learned during COVID that there are great inequities in health care, there are great needs, and that we have to do a better job to support and provide health care, equally, to all people,” Maloney said.

The temporary medical care unit was designed by a research and development consortium composed of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and The Tuchman Foundation. Maloney worked with the aforementioned agencies, as well as the New York City Housing Authority, to secure the placement for the temporary healthcare unit.

Hochul praised the leadership of Maloney, as well as echoing similar sentiments about unequal access to healthcare.

“Today, we begin to right the wrongs of the past. If anything, this pandemic demonstrates that there are systemic disparities in healthcare access and therefore healthcare outcomes,” Hochul said. “Nowhere do we see that more intensely than in this neighborhood and in this community.”

Claudia Coger, the former Astoria Houses Tenants Association President, said that a high number of unvaccinated individuals live in the neighborhood. She says access is key when it comes to providing knowledge to the place she has called home for her entire life.

“Let’s get rid of some of the excuses,” Coger said.

City’s New Top Doctor gives COVID briefing

Dr. Ashwin Vasan has taken over as the city’s top doctor at the two-year mark of the ongoing pandemic.

Officially taking the reins from Dr. Dave Chokshi on March 16, Vasan held his first briefing last week in Queens alongside President and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, Dr. Mitchell Katz and Director of NYC Test and Trace Corps, Dr. Ted Long.

“Although it’s only my first week on the job, I understand how important regular communication is with all of you,” Vasan said to the press. “While the losses of the last two years have been profound, we’ve also developed tools in that period that are saving lives, including testing, prevention and new treatments, like antiviral pills.”

“It’s an honor to be the city’s doctor. Something you’ll hear me talk a lot about is the emotional toll that this pandemic has taken on all of us. We have all been through so much over these past two years and continuing uncertainty about the future of COVID can certainly add to the strain on New Yorkers mental health and well being,” Vasan said.

As of March 21, the city’s seven-day and 28-day average positivity rates are trending in the right direction with 1.66 percent and 1.89 percent rates, respectively.

Although he said New York City is currently in a “low-risk environment”, Vasan said he and his team at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is monitoring the presence of the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron.

Dr. Celia Quinn said that ‘about 30 percent’ of cases in the city can be attributed to the subvariant, and that while it appears to be more transmissible than other strains of Omicron, it does not appear to cause more severe illness.

“I think the important thing to remember and to emphasize for New Yorkers is that currently, there’s no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe illness, increases risk of hospitalization, or that our current vaccines offer less protection against it,” Vasan said.

With just 55 percent of New Yorkers aged 65 or older who received their booster or additional dose, Vasan and his team stressed the importance of vaccines and reconnecting with health care providers.

As some mask mandates have been relaxed in city schools and other places, Vasan and Katz hesitated to say what it would take to lift a workplace vaccine mandate.

“People who have tried to predict what’s going to happen in the future for this pandemic have repeatedly found egg on their face, as they say, and I’m not going to do that here today,” he said.

Dr. Katz added, “Nobody has suggested that we should, you know, because polio levels are so low, we should say that schoolchildren shouldn’t be vaccinated for polio. I think vaccine mandates have a long and important history in public health.

“If you have childhood vaccinations, then everybody grows up to be vaccinated. So it turns out to be irrelevant, right? The point of childhood vaccinations is by doing it at childhood, you’re giving the person maximum benefit. And then they grow up as a whole cohort of people who are fully vaccinated.”

Cuomo won’t quit, but some think he should

The hits keep on coming for former NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo, yet for some reason, the man continues to put out campaign rhetoric, despite the fact he hasn’t even announced plans to run for office.

His new pseudo-campaign advertisement certainly raised a few eyebrows, considering his reluctant resignation from office last August amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment by former aides. In his commercial, Cuomo appears apologetic, admitting “I haven’t been perfect. I’ve made mistakes. But I also made a difference.”

Cuomo says that he believes “cancel culture” and “political attacks” contributed to his early departure from office, claiming that reports conducted by Attorney General Letitia James are full of “omissions and inaccuracies.”

In addition to the sexual harassment scandal, he has been heavily criticized for his misuse of government resources to write a $5 million memoir and deliberately altering the number of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes to inflate the perception of New York’s performance. (Not to mention the accusations against his brother, former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo).

Earlier this week State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released the findings of an internal audit, uncovering that a persistent lack of funding over the last decade forced the NYS Department of Health to operate without critical information systems and staff that could’ve helped identify and limit the spread of COVID-19 within nursing homes.

The audit uncovered that the health department understated the number of nursing home deaths by at least 4,100 people and that Cuomo used his executive authority to control infromation provided to the public.

“The pandemic was devastating and deadly for New Yorkers living in nursing homes. Families have a right to know if their loved one’s COVID-19 death was counted, but many still don’t have answers from the state Department of Health,” DiNapoli stated. “Our audit findings are extremely troubling. The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth. The pandemic is not over, and I am hopeful the current administration will make changes to improve accountability and protect lives. An important step would be for DOH to provide the families who lost loved ones with answers as to the actual number of nursing homes residents who died. These families are still grieving, and they deserve no less.”

The fact the numbers were so easily suppressed speaks volumes about the level of corruption that exists in Albany.

Nevertheless, new polling data provided from The Hill and Emerson College, show that despite everything, were he to attempt to make a bid for his former office, he could potentially have a chance at beating his successor, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The poll revealed that 37 percent of Democratic primary voters would support Hochul with Cuomo pulling in close behind at 33 percent. Meanwhile, current contenders U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams polled in seven and four percent of voters respectively.

The poll also revealed that 59 percent of voters polled trusted the findings of AG Letitia James.

Cuomo’s recent “God isn’t finished with me yet” performance at a Brooklyn church furthered the rumors of his potential run for re-election, much to the chagrin of several other Democrats, who are hoping he won’t run again.

Jay Jacobs, the chair of the NY Democratic party, told CNBC that he thinks running for office would be a “bad mistake” for Cuomo, who claims that he is open to the idea of creating his own political party in order to try and reclaim his seat, instead of attempting to secure the Democratic nomination.

But Jacobs isn’t the only one opposed to having Cuomo run for office.

NYS Assemblyman Ron Kim, chair of the aging committee, slammed the former Governor and his administration, stating that the findings of DiNapoli’s audit “verified public fraud at the highest level of state government.”

“Cuomo suppressed and covered up life-and-death data while pursuing a multi-million dollar book deal,” Kim states. “His actions were never about protecting our most vulnerable, they were about pure egotism and self-enrichment at the cost of others’ lives.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, another of the Democratic candidates in the race for Governor, also commented on Cuomo’s continued attempts to discredit the findings of the state AG, calling his “cancel culture” remarks a sign of his “unbridled hubris and insistence to deny responsibility, dodge accountability and gaslight the masses.”

Despite the opinions of elected officials within his own party, based on the polls, there are certainly a number of New Yorkers standing in Cuomo’s corner regardless of the harassment scandal, book deal, and nursing home audit. However, it still remains unclear if he intends to run in the upcoming election.

Pandemic predators

Dear Editor,
I’m shocked by accusations that “nonprofit” hospitals sued patients and filed liens against their homes during the COVID crisis, despite receiving state emergency funds.
The Coalition for Affordable Hospitals, a group of labor unions, claims that 55 hospitals sued nearly 4,000 patients for medical debt while getting over $442 million from the state’s Indigent Care Pool.
These pandemic predators exploited taxpayers and patients out of sheer greed. Among the worst culprits, says the Coalition, is Northwell Health, New York’s largest hospital system a biggest private employer with 23 hospitals, 650 outpatient facilities and more than 70,000 staffers.
Its president & CEO, Michael Dowling, got a total compensation exceeding $4 million last year, ten times higher than President Joe Biden’s salary. Not bad for the head of an enterprise designated as a “nonprofit, tax exempt” organization by New York State and the federal government.
In television commercials, hospitals portray themselves as compassionate lifelines to their communities. But their bottom line takes top priority in real life.
They are nonprofit profiteers who violated a basic mandate of medicine: “First, do no harm.” State leaders and regulatory agencies must probe and penalize them for financial abuse.
Richard Reif
Kew Gardens Hills

Variant fears

Dear Editor,
The recent news about a new variant of COVID-19 discovered in South Africa is very worrisome news. We cannot allow this variant to spread across the globe, which will certainly cause a resurgence in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, especially if the current vaccines and boosters are not as protective against it.
Will we ever be able to rid the world of COVID? According to most medical experts, that will not happen. Instead, the virus will diminish in spread and intensity and become endemic like the flu, and will require a yearly vaccine.
COVID19 has really turned everyone’s lives topsy turvy.
John Amato
Fresh Meadows,

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