With the tagline “Where Health Meets Heritage,” the Black Health Matters Harlem Week Health Summit and Expo featured a wide array of speakers, health resources, and information. Citing “some of the greatest health challenges of our time,” the Summit, held last month at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem, featured remarks from CDC Executive Director Mandy K. Cohen, MD, MPH, and Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Ashwin Vasan, MD, PhD.
Vasan kicked things off by talking about the current status of healthcare among New Yorkers. “In recent times, our health has taken quite the hit,” Vasan said. “Life expectancy and life spans…[have] fallen dramatically over the last few years. And while COVID might have been the greatest threat that we face in our lifetimes, it’s just one explanation for why our life spans are getting shorter and our lives are getting less healthy.”
Vasan spoke about other contributing factors, including alcohol use, drug use, and overdoses.
He added that not everyone experiences these impacts equally. “Black New Yorkers are suffering the largest declines in health of any group in our city,” Vasan said. “The average Black New Yorkers can expect to live 73 years in New York City compared to 78 years for white New Yorkers. This is unacceptable to me.”
What can individuals do? Vasan offered several possibilities, including:
- Investing in preventive medicine
- Checking your blood pressure
- Stopping tobacco use
- Learning how to use naloxone to prevent overdoses
- Maintaining healthy diet and nutrition
- Ensuring that children and adults are up to date on vaccines and boosters (COVID, RSV, flu)
Vasan concluded by saying that “vaccines save lives” and “Black health matters. Your health matters. It matters to me, it matters to the mayor, and we are committed to centering it. We know that if our city is going to be healthier overall, we have to center the needs of the Black community.”
Vasan then handed the microphone over to Cohen, who focused on vaccination. “There are a lot of threats to our health and our ability to be healthy, but we also have more tools than ever before, and one of the tools I want to talk to you about is vaccines,” Cohen said. “How wonderful it is as parents that we can give that gift to our kids.”
Cohen spoke specifically about RSV and new tools available to protect children: “Many of us have had friends or our own kids who have been in the hospital with RSV, so don’t let that happen this year. If you have a little baby, it’s time to get their RSV shot.”
Cohen also discussed the drop in vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic and implored families to protect children. “As they get ready for school, put vaccines on their back-to-school checklist.”
Cohen ended her remarks on an upbeat note, saying that she wants “to make sure we’re protecting them from measles and polio and chickenpox.”
In a Q&A session with reporters after their remarks, Vasan reiterated the importance of getting vaccinated. “The majority of people hospitalized and severely ill are unvaccinated, so it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated if you haven’t been vaccinated and to get the new booster [when available].”
Cohen talked about the impending release of the new COVID-19 booster, which she said is likely to be introduced “the second or third week of September. We will see the FDA approve a new COVID Booster, then the CDC will make a final recommendation on who should get that booster. I expect that this will be a booster that is widely available to everyone. Again, we’re seeing more COVID already starting to circulate, or know [there’s] going to be more COVID this fall and winter, so likely what you will see from us is a recommendation to get your COVID booster, probably the second or third week of September.”
For additional resources about COVID-19, visit www1.nyc.gov/site/coronavirus/index.page or call 311. COVID-19 testing, masks, and vaccination resources can also be accessed on the AmNews’ COVID-19 page: www.amsterdamnews.com/covid/. The COVID-19 Express site is at nyc.gov/covidexpress. At-home rapid test kits are available for pickup at nyc.gov/covidtest.