By MIKE LEE
While new vaccines offer hope for curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic, they won’t work unless people actually get vaccinated. To lead by example, union leaders stepped forward to publicly get vaccinated in an attempt to inspire their own frontline essential workers to do the same and beat back the coronavirus.
Henry Garrido, Executive Director of District Council 37, joined 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg in Harlem to receive the first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Both Garrido and Bragg were qualified to take the vaccine because of their underlying health conditions.
The public event on Feb. 26 at the Harlem Medical office of AdvanageCare Physicians, brought together the leaders of two of New York City’s largest unions to encourage others to get the COVID-19 vaccines.
For Garrido, who leads DC 37 and its 150,000 frontline public and private workers and 50,000 retirees, it was a difficult decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“On a personal level, I am happy and optimistic,” Garrido said. “As Executive Director of DC 37, I go from hospital to hospital, from one first responder unit to another. My biggest fear was that I would bring this virus home.”
Garrido addressed the issue of inequity regarding access to the vaccines, pointing out that people of color who died at two times the rate of whites during the pandemic, are having a significantly harder time accessing the vaccine.
“Our job as union leaders is to demand an equitable distribution of the vaccine,” Garrido said. “Sadly, the rate of distribution is actually leaving Blacks and Latinos with limited access.”
He also pointed out that more City workers and people of color not recognized as essential workers should be considered for a wider vaccine distribution, linking the issue to a future reopening of the city later this year.
“If we are going to open the parks and pools this summer, we need to vaccinate these workers now. They are not deemed essential workers for the vaccine—they are deemed essential workers for providing services,” Garrido said. “You can be required to work, but not essential for the requirements the State has set out.”