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A man is administered one of the first vaccines at FEMA's mass-vaccination site in Center City. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News
A man is administered one of the first vaccines at FEMA's mass-vaccination site in Center City. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News

Esperanza will host mass-vaccination site in North Philadelphia after weeks of advocacy

Esperanza is now the second mass-vaccination site run by FEMA, and will open to the public on Saturday morning, April 10. It will deliver between 1,500 and 2…

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From the outset, the FEMA mass-vaccination site in Philadelphia’s Center City had issues. 

Namely, accessibility to the hardest-hit regions in the city. Essential workers and seniors in hard-to-reach districts, who face transportation challenges to get to the vaccination site, and those inhibited by language barriers, all struggled to make the trip. 

It ultimately became clear that the city would need to pursue new routes.

In the case of the new mass vaccination site in North Philadelphia, it was also a matter of self-advocacy to save lives. 

As City Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez told AL DÍA in March on the issue, “the only way to ensure that you are reaching high-risk individuals is by making the vaccine widely accessible in those communities.” 

At the time she expressed her hope that a vaccination site be opened at Esperanza Academy Charter High School in her district, to be approved and “make meaningful progress.”

In March, Reverend Luis Cortés with Esperanza also said that he had been trying to bring vaccines into his community in Hunting Park for weeks. 

"Everyone speaks of Equity but no one seems able to do equity when it comes to the vaccines," Cortés added.

To this, Health Department spokesperson Jim Garrow told AL DÍA that the Health Department is working with Esperanza to improve vaccine acces.

A month later, Rev. Cortés’ work has paid off. 

Esperanza is now the second mass-vaccination site run by FEMA, and will officially open to the public on Saturday morning, April 10. It will deliver between 1,500 and 2,500 vaccinations per day

“This new vaccination center is particularly important because it will allow us to better reach under-vaccinated populations, particularly residents of color in Franklinville and surrounding communities,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a press release.

On Tuesday, April 6, Rev Cortés joined U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle to give further information on the testing site for the community. 

“Every single person who wants this vaccine is entitled to have access to it,” the congressman said. “Unfortunately we’ve seen in the statistics, that that principle is not being followed in practice, that there are disparities. Socioeconomic disparities, and racial disparities right now in terms of who is getting the vaccine.”

Per City of Philadelphia vaccine data, neighborhoods in North Philadelphia remain the zip codes with the lowest vaccination rates. 

He noted that Rev. Cortés contacted him a month ago, expressing his concern that there was no testing site in North Philadelphia, and expressed his willingness to host a vaccine site at Esperanza. 

Boyle noted Esperanza’s accessibility and connection to the North Philadelphia community. It’s not an unfamiliar pop-up location, or an inaccessible site miles away at the convention center. 

“Partnering with the city, with the state, and FEMA to bring vaccines — the vaccine location closer to those who are in desperate need and who have access issues in removing those barriers are what is most important about this site,” Cortés said. 

The clinic will open to the public on Saturday morning, April 10. An on-site information tent opened on April 6 at 10:30 a.m. and will be able to make appointments for individuals who don't have access to a computer.

“You will be able to get your appointments by dialing 311 and going through that system. Spanish speakers as well. Starting Saturday, you will be able to walk up and make an appointment for the very same day,” Cortés added. 

To end, he noted the specific importance to North Philadelphia’s Latino community. 

"It is very important for us, isn't it? To have the opportunity to have this center. And for a while we thought they weren't going to listen to our voices. I'm very grateful to Congressman Boyle and the city leaders, the mayor and the health department and FEMA and the state because they listened, and after three weeks here we are,” he said in Spanish. 

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