Town zeros in on vaccinating seniors

Photo Courtesy of Essex County Essex County officials look on as the Rev. Joe Carter, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, receives his first dose of the vaccination at Essex County College on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — With both Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines currently available to certain sectors of the public, studies show that the black and brown community continues to be wary of the vaccine. But Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss is fighting to change this, encouraging members of the community to get both doses of the vaccine as soon as they are able. Vauss himself is scheduled to receive the first dose of the vaccine on March 4 and the second on April 1.

“I noticed that there were a lot of white people getting the vaccine, compared to black and brown people,” Vauss said in a press release. “We need to reverse this trend, or we will continue to see more black and brown fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons and daughters die of this virus.”

Under the leadership of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. and Vauss, in coordination with the Department of Health, the township is currently well into its efforts to spread information about the vaccine and get its senior population vaccinated.

“Right now, we’re transporting our seniors to get vaccinated,” Director of Health Sonia Whyte said on Feb. 15. “Essex County is providing transportation for seniors in Irvington and transporting them down to Essex County College for them to get the vaccine. The mayor did a robocall last week and we’ve got a lot of calls regarding people needing transportation to that facility to get vaccinated. Essex County being able to provide transportation for Irvington seniors to go and get vaccinated, we’re really excited about that.

“A significant amount of calls means that people are interested in getting the vaccine and we’re able to give them the transportation they need because transportation for folks was one of the issues in terms of getting vaccinated,” she continued. “Seniors are the most vulnerable population, and being able to provide that service will definitely help in getting the shots in the arms of as many people as possible, so that we could hopefully go on and mitigate the spread of this virus. This is allowing us to meet the people where they are, which is helpful. We’re excited about that.”

Much like Vauss, Whyte urges the black and brown community to trust vaccinations, though she acknowledges it is a personal choice.

“Historically, there’s apprehension because we’ve been guinea pigs with all of the historical events that have happened to black and brown people,” Whyte said. “I think the need to be vaccinated and get reliable information surrounding it is something that is key. That’s the missing puzzle piece to this: getting the word out about the importance of getting vaccinated. Even though it is a personal choice, it’s available.

“Considering the fact that our community has been hit so hard by the virus, there should be more discussions about getting vaccinated to help ease apprehension,” she continued. “I’m not forcing it on anyone and I think it’s a personal choice, but I think everyone should educate themselves about it as much as possible. I think our mayor, along with Joe D., is making a good push and making sure that there is access to it.”

Whyte pointed out a fact that many in the community may not know: Immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett, a black woman, has been praised as the key scientist behind the COVID-19 Moderna vaccine.

“She was very instrumental in doing the research around mRNA,” Whyte said. “That was something she was working on for a while, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci. I think that’s a really important message, so that people in the black and brown communities can know that it was an African American woman who was very involved in this.”

Additionally, Vauss will begin a campaign to build trust in the vaccine. Following DiVincenzo’s lead, part of Vauss’ plan is to call on pastors and other black leaders to speak out for the vaccine and build trust by getting the vaccine themselves.
Those eligible to receive the vaccine can schedule an appointment at