New York State’s partnering with SOMOS Community Care, a network of diverse doctors, to encourage lower income communities of color to vaccinate kids as the school year begins this September.
“Like us, our patients are different. Most do not speak English, and many do not trust institutional hospitals or corporate pharmacy chains––but they do trust their family doctors. That’s where we come in,” said SOMOS co-founder Dr. Ramon Tallaj, who helped launch the organization in 2015.
Since the first days of the pandemic in 2020, SOMOS has worked with the state to test and vaccinate communities considered “tough-to-reach.” Currently, they’re pushing to vaccinate kids aged 6 months to 13 years old by opening up 21 multi-lingual pediatrician offices. The goal is to get shots in kids’ arms by the opening of the school year on September 8.
“Our pediatricians have been treating these kids since birth and our SOMOS network is mobilized to work family by family, over the next few months with hundreds of thousands of parents to make sure that they get their kids vaccinated, to continue the city’s recovery––and make sure that the start of school is safe, healthy, and uninterrupted,” Tallaj continued.
Dr. Juan Tapia Mendoza, a local doctor with SOMOS, confirmed that COVID-19 is still very much a “threat” to public health in the city, especially for vulnerable communities with co-morbidities. COVID-19, Omicron, and the latest variant of COVID, BA.5, are all circulating and infecting people, said Mendoza.
In the last decade, said Mendoza, there has been a resurgence of highly infectious diseases previously thought to be rare or wiped out. Added to the watchlist is paralytic polio and monkeypox, but also malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus, and of course COVID, he said.
Mendoza said that since the last recorded case of polio was back in the 1970s, even one case now is considered an outbreak that parents should be wary of. The good news is that most children with a primary care provider or pediatrician have been vaccinated for free against polio, starting at 6 months of age. A child receives several doses by the time they’re 4 years old, and the status can be checked if needed.
As far as monkeypox goes, that is also a potential concern for parents and students because technically anyone can be infected, not just the targeted LGBTQ+ community, said Mendoza.
“I have a 9-month-old baby,” said Mendoza, “I get home. I hug him, I kiss him, I cuddle him. That child, being less than a year old, he can get infected without ever having set foot outside his home.”
Monkeypox can be transmitted through very close and intimate contact, cough, oral and respiratory secretions, and by sharing intimate items like clothing or towels, said Mendoza.
The New York Post reported that the first case of monkeypox has been found in a young person, under 18 years old, as of this past weekend. The youth lives outside of the city.
However, there are treatment vaccines and testing available for monkeypox for eligible patients.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1