Frontline Vaccinations Commence

February 22, 2021

Healthcare workers are rolling up their sleeves to defeat COVID-19.

PatriciaBiceps.jpgMillions of Bandaided biceps signal a return to normalcy: the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is under way. As this magazine goes to press, healthcare workers across the United States are getting vaccinated, and among them are hundreds of thousands of 1199SEIU members.

From South Florida to Northern New York State, COVID-19 vaccines are being administered to workers in homecare agencies, hospitals, nursing homes, and retail drug outlets.

“I was not at all nervous about getting vaccinated,” says Carlos Villalba, a clerk at a midtown Manhattan Rite Aid drugstore. “I was nervous about NOT getting vaccinated.”

Villalba is the only member of his family currently working outside the home, and has been afraid of transmitting the virus to his parents and siblings.

Carlos Rosa, a patient transporter at University of Rochester’s Strong Medical Center had similar fears.

Rosa was the first healthcare worker vaccinated in Central New York’s Monroe County. Rosa was anxious to take the vaccine and thrilled when his chance to get the shot arrived. “I was surprised to be first,” says Rosa, who received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 15. “I did it to show my co-workers that there was nothing wrong with the vaccine and this is how we are going to move forward as a country. Also, my father has bad asthma, and my mother is getting older. I had been staying away from them, and I missed them.”

1199SEIU has undertaken a massive campaign to educate members about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and how they work.

The Union is also working with allies and institutions to help members get vaccinated and ensure adequate supplies of the vaccine for front-line healthcare workers.

Lolleita Nelson, an RN at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, NY, took her first vaccine shot on Dec. 15 and says it was never a question of “if” but “when” she would get vaccinated.

“I have seen what happened to people who had COVID-19, and I remember how I cried seeing people on ventilators and sometimes pass away,” she says.

Nelson also thinks 1199’s education campaign is vital to combat the misinformation swirling around vaccines.

“I tell everyone to treat that as [anti-vaccine] propaganda and not to listen,” she says. “These vaccines will save your life and protect your family and friends. My advice is to educate yourself. Instead of listening to rumors, listen to scientists, doctors, and the experts at Centers for Disease Control.”

In this vein, 1199’s education efforts include tele-town halls and conference calls with experts, institutional outreach, a weekly email newsletter, Frontline News, literature to help answer questions, and a host of other resources available here.

vaccinations2.jpg“I try to explain to people that this is our chance get our freedom back. No one wants to be sheep, but they don’t call it ‘herd’ immunity for nothing.”

– Derick Rias,
Physician Assistant,
Richmond University Medical Center,
Staten Island, NY

Dr. Van Dunn, Chief Medical Officer of the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund, has been an unflagging source of reassurance and up-to-date information since the pandemic’s outbreak and through the vaccine rollout.

“At first, I thought the vaccine was developed too fast, and then I listened to Dr. Dunn and spoke to a couple of doctors. I also read up on materials from the Union,” says Angela Thomas, a unit clerk at Schaffer Extended Care at Montefiore New Rochelle in New York’s Westchester County. “Now I am supportive, and from the time I got vaccinated, I was telling other members they should too.”

A central goal of the Union’s education and outreach is addressing historic disparities and longstanding systemic racism in health care that contributes to fear and suspicion of the vaccine in communities of color.

Derick Rias, a Physician Assistant at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, acknowledges that history, but he also trusts science.

vaccinations3.jpgPhysician Assistant Derick Rias trusts science and uses it to help allay vaccine fears in his community.

Members at January vaccination event at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.


As evidence, Rias points to progress around HIV/AIDS, polio, smallpox, and other diseases. He has been talking with his neighbors about vaccination and vaccine safety.

“In a lot of African American neighborhoods, people are afraid to get vaccinated, and it is understandable because of what has happened [to us] over the years,” he says. “But I try to explain to people that this is our chance get our freedom back. No one wants to be sheep, but they don’t call it ‘herd’ immunity, for nothing.”

Partners In Care Home Health Aide Patricia O’Hara was vaccinated at a recent event at the agency’s Manhattan headquarters. An immune compromised breast cancer survivor who is currently under treatment for ovarian cancer, O’Hara jumped at the chance.

“I am doing anything I can to encourage people to go out and get vaccinated,” she says. “Unless 80% of us get vaccinated we are never going to get past this.”

- 1199 Magazine | January / February 2021