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COVID vaccines: Where is the leadership?

BY ARTHUR SCHWARTZ | On Jan. 14, at 2:30 a.m., I got a needle full of the Moderna vaccine stuck into my arm.

It wasn’t easy to get that done. As soon as I heard that Governor Cuomo had opened the vaccine to people age 65 and over, I got on the Internet trying to make an appointment. For three hours I filled out computer forms posted by different agencies, at least seven in all. Not one had an appointment available — and I looked as far ahead as June. Then I started calling locations listed on some New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene site — pharmacies, urgent-care clinics, hospitals. Not one call got me an appointment.

I was beside myself. Mentally I had been prepared to wait until mid to late February or even March for a shot. But when the age was lowered to 65, I leapt at the opportunity. Like everyone reading this, I have lived in dread of COVID for more than 10 months. I am 67. I have had a heart attack. Forget about the difficulties of being a City Council candidate — I have had limited time with my adult children and my 99-year-old mom. Work revolves around my tiny “home office.” But the chance that I might get vaccinated in January had become a bad dream.

Then I read on a neighborhood blog called Nextdoor that the Health Department, at 125 Worth St., was taking walk-ins. So on Jan. 14 I went at 8 a.m.; I was told “no walk-ins.” I came back at 6 p.m.; “no walk-ins.” I shared my experience on the blog, and was advised to try again at 2 a.m. I did, and I walked right in! Four nurses were sitting without people to vaccinate. I got it, I got no reaction, and shot No. 2 is scheduled for Feb. 11 — my birthday!

But I am angry.

We have no political leadership on this life-and-death issue. We are getting used to death and disease, but COVID is still a killer that can be wiped out. However, plans should have been made, and mobilization unfolded, but neither has happened.

  • Corey Johnson, our city councilmember, says he is dealing with depression. So he is off attending classes at Columbia and has said nothing about the vaccine. OUR city councilmember should have been organizing vaccination points all over the district — in empty stores or at schools that no one is going to. OUR city councilmember — and his staff— should have been screaming loudly for you and me. And you know who else Corey forgot? Seniors who are housebound, or maybe not so savvy with roundabout Web site signups. People with disabilities who may not be 65, but who are immunosuppressed (like folks with H.I.V./AIDS), or who have serious diabetes, kidney disease or heart or lung disease. Why isn’t he looking out for these people? Oh, yes, he is having a webinar this coming week… .
  • And our mayor? The citywide effort should have been gigantic. He could have vaccinated 2,000 emergency medical personnel in December and then deployed them everywhere in January. Everywhere means hundreds of sites, with lots of sites open to walk-in, like when you get a flu shot.
  • Our governor? He gets a “D” on the rollout. He changes the rules every day. He had months to set up a massive rollout statewide. But he now seems lost. On Jan. 15, 2021, he admitted that his plan to vaccinate New Yorkers was failing. Doses of the vaccine had been sitting in the freezer for weeks, with some tossed out altogether, due to overly restrictive rules about who was eligible to be vaccinated, and harsh punishments for medical providers who vaccinated an ineligible person.

What are the numbers? As of Jan. 21, New York State (according to the city Health Department) had received 1,004,675 doses. But only 539,618 had been administered as first or second doses. Of that, 119,150 have been set aside for the federal program under which CVS and Walgreens are vaccinating residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Another 25,350 doses are for New York Sate-run vaccination sites, like the one at the Javits Convention Center. That leaves us 320,557. As of the 21st, 232,485 doses were being saved for second doses. That left just 88,000 doses; with the city expected to administer 30,000 per day, the mayor had the city are canceling thousands of appointments.


Even with stepped-up delivery from the Biden administration, the city and state’s system of distribution shows no sign of being able to keep us safe. And for my neighbors under age 65, that means months of angst —hoping to get vaccinated, not knowing when, hoping to not catch the new “variant.”

If I were your city councilmember, I would be out there every day — yelling, organizing, setting up vaccination sites— and fighting to expand availability, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nothing could be more important!

Schwartz is Democratic district leader for Greenwich Village and a candidate for City Council District 3 (Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen).


  1. Lily Carver Lily Carver February 2, 2021

    Sorry, Mr. Schwartz, but you and others under 75 should NOT have gotten the vaccine until every person over 75, as well as residents & workers at all nursing homes, long-term health facilities, front-line healthcare workers and support staff did. There is nothing “snide” about it. We won’t have enough vaccine to cover those over 65 for MONTHS and now we have the hunger games competition, which you won.
    Members of the City Council have ZERO authority to get involved in vaccine distribution especially when the governor already took it OUT of the hands of public health officials. What exactly did you expect Mr. Johnson or any city councilmember to do, steal the vaccine and set up an illegal distribution center? No politician except Cuomo gets to “demand” vaccine. This is total grandstanding on your part and has zero to do with facts of how vaccines are distributed. The key issue is, in fact, prioritizing them for those most in need and absolutely no one is doing that because it is bad politics to say more people in the Bronx get it than the West Village. I have never been a supporter (I am one of those THRILLED with the 14th St. busway) but your playing politics with the Vaccine to make a baseless charge against Corey Johnson is truly a new high in your attempts to get attention and win at all costs.

  2. Arthur Schwartz Arthur Schwartz February 2, 2021

    According to the NY State Vaccine Tracker, it appears that New York State as a whole has given out 83% of the supply it received by the Federal Government. In specific, North Country is doing better than every other region, having distributed 97% of the first doses it has received. The Albany area is at 93%, as is Long Island.
    New York City is faring the worst: only 71% of the first doses it has received have already been given out. Its performance is far and away the worst area in the State. Yes, as per the February 1 Times article, the Governor has clearly screwed this up by putting distribution in the hands of his biggest contributors in the hospital system. But the Mayor should be doing so much more for our City, and OUR City Council Member should be looking out for his district, including the largely Hispanic and Black population of Fulton Houses and Chelsea Elliot Houses, and the largely senior population at Penn South. He and his staff should be demanding vaccination sites at those buildings. Don’t say, “Let Corey off the hook because it is the Governor’s fault.”
    As to the snide comment about gaming the system because I am under 75. There is a reason why the CDC said 65-year-olds should be vaccinated, and I have made a public issue of fighting to stop Beth Israel’s closing (successfully) after recovering from a heart attack there. All I did was show up repeatedly through the night and fill in for someone who didn’t show. Most people can’t pull that off — and no one should have to.

  3. Sara K Sara K February 1, 2021

    Arthur Schwartz either has a very poor understanding of the issue, or he’s intentionally misrepresenting it for political gain. The issue is SUPPLY, not the number of vaccination sites. Everyone knows that (or at least I thought they did). Also, did he miss the headline that the vast majority of vaccinations were already in white neighborhoods, and only 11 percent of vaccinations have gone to black New Yorkers? But, hey, Arthur got his. Stop using toxic false attacks instead of being honest with people.

  4. Stephen DiLauro Stephen DiLauro February 1, 2021

    Mr. Schwartz, you are so right. In 1947, the Times recently reported, there was a smallpox outbreak in our city. 6 million people were vaccinated in one month. The big protocols and order of receiving were quite complicated, though: Go stand in a line and get the jab.
    I’m well past 65 and frustrated beyond belief.
    Big Pharma is part of the problem. Stop making Viagra and manufacture the vax!
    Our “leaders” are a joke. But don’t tell the Emmy judges.

    Stephen DiLauro

  5. Lily carver Lily carver February 1, 2021

    Really, you blame Corey Johnson? Sorry but your grandstanding as political play is nuts
    This is ALL on Cuomo and the Feds. Check out today’s NY Times on how Cuomo let healthcare lobbyist take the control away from Public Health officials. You think a member of New York City Council gets to influence vaccine policy? Guess what, if this were being administered properly, you would not have gotten a dose (unless you have a really severe underlying condition). Instead of prioritizing properly for those MOST at risk and in need, politicians and eventually the CDC promised it to EVERYONE over 65, regardless of condition or circumstances; so a person like yourself who can navigate the system got it, but a shut-in or person of color who is 85 did not because they lacked your skills to work the system. It’s not politically popular to say EVERYONE over 75 should have gotten it first, as the CDC initially recommended. It will take months for enough vaccines to cover the current groups, so the real issue is promising what can’t be delivered, and the other issue is actually prioritizing who gets it — but then a higher percentage would go to people in the Bronx than the West Village and I doubt you will support that.

    • Marguerite Martin Marguerite Martin February 1, 2021

      Thank you for your response. You make some excellent points. And depression is very serious not just a word to be thrown around to criticize someone and insist you would be superior.

  6. Hannah A, Greenwich Village Hannah A, Greenwich Village February 1, 2021

    Arthur you are right except Cuomo gets an F not a D. City and state leadership is a travesty. Glad to see you running for the seat that Corey abandoned on his climb to greater political power.

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