Op-Ed | CUNY steps up again; helps vaccinate New York


Spring, a time of renewal and hope, is officially here. Despite the fatigue we feel and the pain we have endured, there is still optimism in our hearts as we collectively look to a not-so-distant future return to some sense of normalcy.

It was in that spirit that I announced in January that the City University of New York is planning a safe, gradual progression to a new normal for the Fall 2021 semester. But for that to become a reality, we must steel our resolve and maintain the discipline we have collectively shown so our City and State can finally — and fully — emerge from this year-long crisis.

Now more than ever, it’s critical to not let our guard down and continue masking up, washing our hands and maintaining physical distance. And I vigorously encourage everyone to schedule a COVID vaccination shot for yourselves and your loved ones, as soon as each person is eligible.

That’s why CUNY is delighted to have two of our campuses, Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and York College in Jamaica, Queens, serve as New York State-Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mass vaccination sites. In the first three weeks since they opened, over 100,000 vaccinations were administered to eligible New Yorkers at these sites. At a combined pace of 6,000 vaccines each day, CUNY’s campuses will have facilitated the delivery of about 200,000 shots by the end of this month.

These are significant milestones that fill me and our university with immense pride as these sites were created to address vaccine distribution disparities in traditionally underserved communities of color hit hardest by the pandemic.  We continue to discuss possible plans to have several other of our campuses also become vaccination sites in the near future.

CUNY students are doing their part too, bringing their wide-ranging expertise to advance New York’s COVID-19 vaccination recovery effort. Volunteers include students in the health fields and those with academic or professional experience giving injections, and others interested in providing data entry and other support services at vaccination sites and to those visiting them to be vaccinated.

Some 2,500 CUNY Nursing students are lending their expertise and knowledge to NY State-run facilities such as those at Medgar Evers and York, and another 1,000 nursing students, under the supervision of CUNY faculty, are volunteering throughout the NYC Health + Hospitals system in the five boroughs.

They are students like Bianca Blake, a York College senior and aspiring critical care nurse who has been working at her college’s vaccination site once a week since the site opened on February 24.

“I wanted to get involved because I wanted to give back to our community, especially after the hard year that we’ve all just been through,” she said. “It’s a chance to not only help our community but all the people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Bianca’s zeal for service is what makes our students so special — and it’s one of the many ways CUNY is assisting New York’s COVID recovery effort.

She follows a long line of CUNY students, faculty and alumnae who felt and acted on that sense of obligation. Sandra Lindsay, a clinical care nurse who graduated from Borough of Manhattan Community College and Lehman College, made history in December when she became the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Lindsay, who is Black, said she wanted to set an example, to show African Americans and all Americans who might have reservations that the shot is safe.

Lindsay is a role model and a leader and she’s now helping our University spread the word of the importance of getting vaccinated as part of a campaign we’ve launched to encourage each member of our CUNY community to get the shot. Only in so doing will we get through this together.

This pandemic has left no life untouched and exposed, and even exacerbated existing social, racial, economic and educational disparities for all to see. Together, we have lived through this horrible and historic moment. And now, with the end finally in sight, we owe it to those we have lost to continue to persevere, stay vigilant and get vaccinated.

Our University’s participation in the important effort to vaccinate New Yorkers makes me proud, but it is only the latest proof that CUNY is integral to New York City’s recovery and that our campuses continue to serve as vital anchor institutions for their surrounding communities.  I know I speak for many more than myself when I say how much I look forward to the happy and hopeful times to come, when we resume the activities that we love. We are getting there.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez is the chancellor of The City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the United States.