Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration has drastically scaled back Paterson’s Covid-19 vaccination program.
Sayegh’s team reduced nightly Covid-19 vaccination from six days to just one day a week. Previously, the Division of Health ran its Covid-19 vaccination outreach initiative using its mobile unit four hours a night from Monday through Saturday. Now, the mobile unit will only provide vaccination on Saturday.
Officials said residents can still get vaccinated during the day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, at the Board of Health on Broadway.
Sayegh, who held numerous press conferences touting the city’s vaccination program, did not hold a press conference or issue a press release announcing the cuts to the program. He did not respond to a call and a message seeking an explanation for the sudden scaling back of the Covid-19 vaccination program.
“I was never consulted on this,” said public health officer Paul Persaud. “It is unbelievable that the vaccination on demand program would be curtailed at this time when we are doing our best to administer booster shots.”
Paterson had remarkable success with its vaccination program. 81% of residents, all ages, have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. 69% have completed the full course of vaccination (two shots or received the single-shot J&J vaccine), according to the New Jersey Department of Health. However, Paterson is lagging behind in administering booster shots – just 31 percent of eligible residents received their booster.
“There is a lot of options for vaccinations throughout the city now, you can go anywhere and get vaccinated,” said councilman Al Abdelaziz, chairman of the health and human services committee. He said Paterson has a high vaccination rate and positivity rate has significantly dropped over the past weeks. “It’s still available five days a week – you just have to go to the Board of Health.”
Abdelaziz said administration officials have told him very few people are getting vaccinated at the mobile unit on a given day. He has asked the Sayegh administration to provide the data on the number of people that received their vaccines at the mobile unit, he said.
“The mobile unit outreach program has facilitated the vaccination of some of Paterson’s most vulnerable population,” said Persaud. Those vulnerable residents, including the large number of unauthorized immigrants that live in Paterson, may not seek out the vaccine. He said 326 Covid-19 vaccines were administered by the mobile unit during the 23 days it gave out shots in January.
Other council members condemned the mayor’s move as a colossal mistake at a time people are being encouraged to get their booster shot to be fully protected against severe disease from Covid-19.
“That’s a huge mistake. That’s how Andre Sayegh operates — he takes decisions on things when he has no clue,” said councilman Alex Mendez.
“They are making decisions without asking the professionals,” said councilman Luis Velez. He also described Sayegh’s decision to scale back Covid-19 vaccination program as a mistake.
“We have a low rate of people getting second and third shots,” said Velez. “We cannot put down our guard.”
Velez said the Sayegh administration should have consulted the health officer before making the decision to scale back vaccination.
Mendez pointed out Sayegh “failed big” when he did not heed the advice of his health officer in the early days of the pandemic to open a testing site. Sayegh initially failed to set up a Covid-19 testing site in Paterson in 2020. Then when the Division of Health put in place a testing program in October 2020, Sayegh scaled it back in January 2021. He later reversed his decision.
“People need to remember this. We are the third biggest city in New Jersey. We didn’t have a single location for testing at the beginning of the pandemic. That was a crime,” said Mendez.