SOMOS Stands Ready to Offer COVID-19 Vaccine

Sandra Lindsay, a nurse, receives the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center Queens on Jan. 4. Community-based health care organizations are also planning to provide vaccinations. (Photo: CNS/Shannon Stapleton, Pool via Reuters)

But State, City Foul-Ups Could Cause Delay

WINDSOR TERRACE — As the state and city struggle to get on the same page to administer COVID-19 vaccines to millions of residents, a faith-based health care organization stands ready to do its part in the vaccination effort.

SOMOS Community Care, a network of 2,500 health care providers who serve more than 700,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in immigrant communities in New York, was preparing to vaccinate 400 front-line workers at two of its facilities in Manhattan and the Bronx.

It was the first step in a process that will eventually see SOMOS vaccinate thousands of health care providers and members of the public in immigrant, under-served communities, including neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.

But state and city leaders are continuing to struggle with a slower than expected vaccine rollout. In the first three weeks, the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have been made available in New York City, only 110,000 vaccinations of health care workers and nursing home residents have taken place.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the establishment of vaccination sites that would be open around the clock. Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not endorse the idea, saying instead that he preferred to set up drive-in centers.

The mayor and governor also feuded over whether the city’s police officers should be among the first group to be vaccinated — de Blasio pushed a plan to have 25,000 cops vaccinated in the coming weeks but was rebuffed by Cuomo, who deemed that cops are not front-line health care workers.

As politics was playing out, organizations like SOMOS were preparing action plans.

SOMOS expects to receive a shipment of 7,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine within the coming days, according to Dr. Ramon Tallaj, an internist who serves as chairman of the board. SOMOS will use those doses to vaccinate health-care workers who were not part of the original group of 400.

 When it comes time to vaccinate the general public, SOMOS will be working through 600 doctors’ offices and 200 dentists’ offices in its network of providers that have been certified by New York State to administer the vaccines.

 SOMOS also has 125 teams on standby who could be sent into the field to vaccinate people.

However, Dr. Tallaj expressed concern over whether the doses will be delivered to SOMOS in a timely fashion. He said SOMOS had to wage a fight to be included in the vaccine distribution plans of both the state and the city.

SOMOS also plans to undertake a large-scale effort to educate the public on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine to convince residents to get vaccinated.

Dr. Tallaj said he was confident that the education effort would be successful and pointed to SOMOS’s community service record as a reason. “Our patients have a trust in what we say and what we do,” he told Currents News.

Still, convincing people to take a vaccine that was developed, tested, and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in less than a year when the normal process usually takes several years is no easy task, according to Mario Paredes, CEO of SOMOS.

“Quite truthfully, people do have fears,” Paredes said.

The key, according to Paredes, is to have the doctors in the SOMOS network explain the vaccine to their patients. “How wonderful it is to have providers, physicians that you know, that you trust them that can explain to them and provide trust for what is being done,” he told Currents News.

SOMOS is not a newcomer to the COVID-19 fight. The organization, founded by Dr. Tallaj in 2015, has been working in cooperation with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration since the beginning of the pandemic.

In May of 2020, SOMOS worked with the Cuomo administration to set up COVID-19 testing sites in dozens of churches and community organizations in Latino neighborhoods hit hard by the virus.

Three of the churches that served as testing sites are located in the Diocese of Brooklyn: Blessed Sacrament Church, Cypress Hills; Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Flushing; and St. Sebastian Church, Woodside.

To date, more than 80,000 New Yorkers have been tested at more than two dozen SOMOS sites in New York City and on Long Island, according to SOMOS.