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Suffolk to vaccinate Black, Latino teachers in hard-hit virus communities

Suffolk County hosted a pop-up vaccine site for

Suffolk County hosted a pop-up vaccine site for educators Saturday in Brentwood. Newsday's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Some 800 Suffolk County educators, many who are Black or Latino, will receive the COVID-19 vaccine Saturday in an effort to make schools safer for instructors during the pandemic, county officials said Friday.

County officials said they reached out to county school districts and the associations representing Black and Latino educators, and the response was so overwhelming that the Saturday appointments filled quickly. No additional shots are available for the event held at the Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, officials said.

Suffolk officials said they expect a diverse group to receive the shots, but made sure to reach out to minority teacher groups since the virus has struck communities of color especially hard.

"This event will ensure we vaccinate a diverse group of teachers to ensure that they are healthy and safe in the classroom," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

The vaccinations for teachers comes a month after New York teachers became eligible for the vaccine. But many say they've been scrambling to get a shot amid a chaotic rollout and scarcity of vaccine. The vaccinations also come as schools are increasingly moving toward more in-school instruction.

Dafny Irizarry, president of the Long Island Latino Teachers Association, said she hopes the event will protect educators as well as reduce the relatively high level of vaccine hesitancy among minorities.

"Communities of color are having a disparity of infections," said Irizarry, who teaches English as a new language in Suffolk. "We want students to get back into the classroom, and teachers to be safe and be safe with their families."

Jennifer Lopez, of Greenlawn, who has worked as a school psychologist in New York City and Suffolk, said she had been trying several times a day to find a vaccination appointment through the state sign-up website. But the site would often crash or offer her a slot in some far away location, she said.

"It really did come as a godsend, and a relief," said Lopez, 51, of the county's vaccination effort. "We're going to be part of the solution now."

Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the shots will be administered to teachers, teacher aides, school psychologists and other school staff. The educators also will be scheduled for a second dose. Those receiving the shots must live or work in Suffolk, she said.

The vaccine doses were part of the county's weekly allotment from the state, Baird-Streeter said. She added that the county also has made efforts to vaccinate priority groups such as first-responders, transit workers, child care staff and workers in homeless shelters.

As teachers struggle to find vaccine appointments, a few Long Island school districts have arranged mass vaccinations through a hospital or urgent care, but the dearth of shots has limited such events. Nassau County recently made some 2,500 shots available to educators and saw the slots fill up quickly.

Brandy Scott, president of the Long Island Black Educators Association, noted that communities of color have registered higher rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Consequently, the teachers in these communities are at a higher risk than teachers elsewhere, she said.

Nicole Salgado, of Farmingville, an English as a new language teacher in Greenport High School, said she will feel more at ease on the job after receiving the shot. She also hopes the effort sends a message to others in communities of color that the inoculation is safe and necessary.

Vaccine hesitancy has been stronger in communities of color because of historical medical abuses against minorities.

Salgado, 28, said getting the shot "is a way of showing my students that there is a brighter future."