COVID-19 News: COVID Vaccination Program Reaches Health Care Workers, Faculty, Staff, Trainees, and Community

From mid-December 2020 through mid-April 2021, Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian vaccinated 150,000 New Yorkers, including Columbia faculty, staff, students and community members.

Jordan Foster, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, was the first physician vaccinated at Columbia. “I feel hopeful and grateful. The vaccine is an important step in getting our community, and similar communities throughout the country, to a level of immunity that can allow us to resume the relationships and interactions that we too often took for granted,” Dr. Foster said after receiving the first dose. 

In mid-January, NYP opened a mass vaccination site at the Armory at 168th and Fort Washington with about 70 vaccine stations. Columbia volunteers helped staff the site to administer vaccines, assist with navigation and registration, and translate for non-English speaking New Yorkers who arrived for vaccines. At the Armory site, NYP reserved at least 60% of appointment slots for eligible residents of the Washington Heights, Inwood, Northern and Central Harlem, and South Bronx communities. To engage the neighboring communities, NYP partnered with more than 40 community-based and faith-based organizations to identify ways to provide access, overcome vaccine hesitancy, and address persistent health inequities. 

Eligibility expanded at the Armory site to include all New Yorkers. The site was scheduled to operate through May 2021; by March, physician practices assumed primary roles in vaccinating patients. Columbia started opening multiple sites in March to give Columbia patients, faculty, staff, and students more options for vaccinations.

Vaccination of front-line workers began in December 2020 and continued into 2021.

In April, hundreds of New Yorkers from Harlem, Northern Manhattan, and Morningside Heights were vaccinated at a community pop-up vaccination site organized by Columbia’s Community Wellness Center on the Manhattanville campus and Columbia­Doctors. The event resulted from partnerships between Columbia and multiple public and private health care providers.

Columbia and NYP have taken a number of steps to address vaccine hesitancy. The hospital created a speakers’ bureau of experts to make educational presentations on the importance and safety of the vaccine. Columbia created a vaccine champions program to train CUIMC employees to offer one-on-one peer conversations and support to their colleagues who have questions about the vaccine. Several Columbia faculty and staff participated in a series of public service announcements for a New York state “Roll Up Your Sleeves” education campaign.

A series of virtual town hall meetings brought Columbia experts and community health workers together to discuss vaccines, dispel misinformation about the vaccines, and build trust between the medical center and its surrounding communities.