Alden Terrace pop-up vaccination site serves 300

Peter Belfiore for LI Herald

April 01, 2021

Originally published in Long Island Herald on April 01, 2021.

More than 300 people from Valley Stream and Elmont received Covid-19 inoculations at a state-run pop-up vaccination site at Alden Terrace Elementary School last Saturday.

Organized in collaboration with Masjid Hamza and the Elmont School District, the site was chiefly intended to serve the local Muslim community. Additionally, roughly 25 teachers and staff members at Alden Terrace received their shots.

Saturday’s vaccination drive came as the number of vaccinations statewide has steadily increased in recent weeks. As of Monday, more than 286,000 people in Nassau County had been fully vaccinated out of a total population of more than 1.3 million, according to state figures. Infection rates, however, remain relatively high, with the state recording a rate of 4.7 percent on Sunday. From March 7 to 25, Valley Stream recorded 585 new infections, according to the county.

Mosque officials said that the push to vaccinate as many congregants as possible was particularly important with Ramadan starting soon. Following the lunar calendar, the Muslim holy month will begin April 12 and end May 11, and will be marked, as always, with evening breaks in fasting and the major holiday Eid al-Fitr, both of which traditionally involve large groups of people praying and eating at mosques.

Ruhee Kapadia, event coordinator for Masjid Hamza, said the local Muslim community, which faces language and technology barriers, had been overlooked in the vaccination effort until now. Kapadia, who coordinated with state officials, said Saturday’s clinic was a major step forward.

“This is a great achievement and a great hope that we are at the end of the tunnel, and see the light with this vaccine,” she said, noting the challenge of filling out the required paperwork for the most vulnerable community members who might not have had the technical literacy to do so on their own.

Sarfraz Ahmed, president of 6,000-member Masjid Hamza, said vaccine distribution was critical for his community, particularly with the Muslim obligation to pray five times a day. The logistics of sanitizing the mosque and maintaining social distancing have proved daunting.

“We don’t want to close the place of worship because of negligence,” he said “ … The most important thing is to save lives.”

Slowly but steadily, community members are being vaccinated, Ahmed said, but Saturday’s site allowed for a much larger number to be inoculated. “Hopefully,” he said, “we can get more.”

Sobia Muzamal, a congregant at Masjid Hamza, said she had tried for more than a month to schedule a vaccination appointment for her mother-in-law, Rubine, who does not speak English. Once sign-ups opened through the mosque, however, she secured one for her within two days.

“We were trying to get an appointment through other departments and the state, and they’re taking a long time; they’re taking two to three months,” she said, explaining that the earliest available appointment for Rubine was in June.

This was the third pop-up vaccination site to come to the area over the past month. On Feb. 23, around 250 people were vaccinated at the Gateway Christian Center, and on Feb. 27, roughly 1,000 people were inoculated at Elmont Memorial High School.

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, whose office helped coordinate with local groups to secure appointments for pop-up site, said the chief focus of Saturday’s drive was to reach the Muslim community. Although mask wearing and social distancing will still be required in the foreseeable future, she said that by vaccinating more people in the community, at least some would be able to celebrate Ramadan with less fear of infection.

“We wanted to ensure that as many people were vaccinated as possible so that they could pray and celebrate their holiday in comfort,” Solages said.

“I was happy that we were able to work together to get this done,” County Legislator Carrié Solages, a Democrat from Lawrence, said.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat whose office also had a part in organizing the site, said it was crucial to target communities that might be excluded in the vaccination effort in order to reach herd immunity.

“Ensuring all of our residents get vaccinated, and no community is left behind, is a critical part of our state and country’s effort to combat the pandemic,” he said.

Shanice Green, an Alden Terrace teacher, said she was grateful to be vaccinated after months of unsuccessfully trying to schedule an appointment.

“We want to keep the kids safe, and also the staff,” she said. She was also able to get a shot for her mother, Carol, who met the age eligibility requirement for vaccination. Carol said the night prior, they had discussed possible plans for their lives once they had been vaccinated, including taking a vacation.

Shanice said she looked forward to returning to old routines, like going out to dinner. “You just feel that much more safe,” she said.