Paterson, N.J. Doubling Down On Vaccination Efforts As Omicron Variant Inches Closer
PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- More than 6 million people in New Jersey are fully vaccinated. That includes people who work, study or live in the Garden State.
CBS2's Leah Mishkin went to Paterson on Tuesday to see how the city is once again leading the way in getting people vaccinated.
Andre Sayegh, the mayor of Paterson, gave the room a thumb's up in the morning after getting his COVID-19 booster shot.
"The best weapon is this vaccine," Sayegh said.
With a new variant inching closer, he said now is the moment to redeploy and double down. The mayor has recruited a team he calls the "army of influencers."
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"Our vaccination rate is 94%. That didn't happen by accident. This team will make sure that within their sphere of influence, they encourage those that haven't been vaccinated yet to go get it, and get the booster if you haven't gotten a booster yet," Sayegh said.
The Omicron team of 12 includes the president of the Dominican parade, deputy mayors of the city, and the rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
"It's about trust, right? So you follow who you trust," Sayegh said.
"So what we were able to do is register our parishioners and the people that live down these blocks," said Rev. Msgr. Geno Sylva of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
There's still tape on the floor in case the cathedral becomes a distribution center for the booster shot. He told Mishkin there was a line around the block in April when they were giving out the vaccine. They did about 500 doses a day.
"We were able to talk to them about their fears, their insecurities about it," Sylva said.
"Do you think it's going to be more difficult to get people to get this booster versus getting the vaccine?" Mishkin asked.
"I don't know. I think people are hearing a lot about it coming back, so I think people are concerned. I think we'll be able to get people back for it," Sylva said.
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"We've had 600 deaths, 160,000 people living in eight square miles," Sayegh said. "What we're saying is the best defense is the vaccine. So if we're at war, that's our weapon. And we're just going to continue to promote the boosters."
"We know that there is uncertainty, but we can't allow that uncertainty to keep us from protecting ourselves from an ambush," said Deputy Mayor Janet McDaniels.
Sayegh said he doesn't fear another shutdown because of the city's proactive approach.
The third-largest city in New Jersey has also turned an HIV mobile testing unit into a COVID-19 testing and vaccination unit to increase accessibility.
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In communities like Newark, where there's been hesitancy in the past, they're also stepping up outreach.
"Mass texts. We're thinking about MyChart messages, the way that we communicate securely with our patients, blasting that out there to get the message out," Dr. Shereef Elnahal, of University Hospital in Newark, told CBS2's Jessica Layton.
He says the clinic at his hospital has plenty of availability every day.
"These vaccines are widely available. You're not taking anything from someone who is more vulnerable than you," he said.
In New York City, Mary Page was already planning to get her booster when she started hearing about the new variant.
"We're feeling like we're a little more at risk," she said.
Looking online at the city-run sites for an immediate appointment proved harder than she hoped.
"It was about a week out, and I wanted to get it as soon as I could ... I had luck walking in," she said.
She says an Urgent Care in Hell's Kitchen was quick and accomodating.
Dr. Vino Palli says as concerns over Omicron increase, they're prepared to handle and welcome the extra demand for vaccines.
"Normally we see about 200 patients. Now, we are seeing 300-400 ... a day," he said.
As the effectiveness of initial vaccines start to decrease, more doctors are making a case for more regular COVID-19 testing again.
"I think anybody with upper respiratory symptoms, even as mild as runny nose, sore throat, should get tested for COVID-19," Elnahal said.
It's how the medical community will ultimately detect the Omicron variant when it arrives in the Tri-State Area, if it's not already here.
Leah Mishkin and Jessica Layton contributed to this report.
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