U.S. HHS Secretary Becerra, NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Vasan Receive Updated COVID Vaccine Booster

September 19, 2022

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra joined NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan, SOMOS Community Care Co-Founder Dr. Ramon Tallaj, and national Latino advocate and activist Henry R. Munoz, III, today in Upper Manhattan.

Along with SOMOS Community Care doctors, local leaders, as officials and families received the updated vaccine to urge all generations of NYC families to get their whole family vaccinated and fully boosted, with a focus on lower-income communities of color.

The Secretary and the Commissioner received the updated vaccine publicly from SOMOS Chief Medical Officer and physician Dr. Yomaris Pena to push the message for as many Americans as possible to get the updated vaccine, which better safeguards against new variants, and ensure safer schools and daycares, fewer variants, and a stronger recovery for all. SOMOS, a network of over 3,000 providers serving 1 million patients, serves the underserved across New York and has broken barriers in and out of the pandemic in opening access via a unique network that combines social and health equity and family and community doctors delivering culturally competent care. During the course of the pandemic, SOMOS has tested over 2 million New Yorkers, has given out over 2 million vaccines, and distributed over 5 million meals to those who need them.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said: “COVID-19 vaccines have brought us through the worst of the pandemic – saving millions of lives, keeping countless people out of the hospital, and providing peace of mind for the country. As fall approaches and people spend more time indoors, I encourage everyone who is eligible to get this free updated COVID vaccine to protect themselves and their loved ones, just as they would get an annual flu vaccine. I also encourage all parents to get their children age 6 months and up the free primary COVID-19 vaccine if they haven’t already.”

“We now have another opportunity to get ahead of COVID-19. But we can’t do it alone. Together, with partners like the SOMOS Community Care Network, Pediatrics 2000, and state and local health officials in New York and beyond, we can protect ourselves and those we love from this deadly virus.”

Dr. Ashwin Vasan said, “These boosters are the most exciting development in vaccines since they launched in 2020,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “Everyone 12 and older, who is more than two months out from their last shot, should get boosted today. There’s never been a better time, so we are prepared for whatever comes this fall and winter. Vaccination doesn’t get done without community leaders and partners working side by side with us, and we’re thankful to SOMOS for giving these new vaccines a much-needed boost and encouraging New Yorkers to get their shot today.”

Dr. Ramon Tallaj said: “Care begins in communities,” said Dr. Ramon Tallaj, Chairman of SOMOS Community Care. “And it means everything to neighborhood doctors and our patients to have Secretary Becerra with us today to advocate alongside us as we push more adults to get the new booster and more families to have kids vaccinated. The Secretary set an example today – and our communities will be healthier for it.”

Henry R. Munoz, III, said, “The underserved working poor and communities of color will only get the care they deserve if we meet them where they are – in their neighborhoods, with care delivered by doctors who speak their language and understand their culture: and that’s just what happened here today. I am confident that more New Yorkers will get the new booster and more parents and grandparents will take kids to get vaccinated by the fact of seeing physicians who look, and sound like them. This is the very meaning of social health equity and health access.” 

New York City has been a leader in primary vaccination rates but for many New Yorkers it is time to get boosted. The NYC Department of Health city-wide vaccine data reports only 40% of those eligible in NYC have received the highly effective omicron booster. In communities of color the numbers are bleak when it comes to the updated vaccine. Only 28% of African Americans and 30% of Latinos who have completed their primary series have since received their updated vaccine. According to the CDC, the updated bivalent COVID-19 booster shot provides a better response to the most threatening variants circulating communities today.

A new campaign ad from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls attention to the fact that 9 in 10 COVID deaths were people over the age of 50. This latest push coincides with the release of the new bivalent booster that is now available in communities across NYC.

There is still work to be done among the youngest New Yorkers: According to recent NYC DOH city-wide vaccine data, less than 2% of Black and 3% of Latino children under 5 years old have received only one dose of the COVID vaccine. The stark contrast in vaccine rates within a single family has intensified the vulnerabilities in New York City’s poorer communities.

Here’s a quick overview of their vaccination rates (at least 1 dose) broken down by age:

  • 5-12 years: Black 44%, Latino 55%
  • 13-17 years: Black 73%, Latino 95%
  • 18-44 years: Black 72%, Latino 99%
  • 45-64 years: Black 77%, Latino 97%

The disparity among the youngest New Yorkers is sparking public concern as children return to daycares and classrooms and return home to more vulnerable and high-risk family members. SOMOS community doctors are leading the way to close the health equity gap by offering primary series vaccinations for all ages 6 months and older in addition to the new updated vaccine.

Vaccinations can be scheduled by visiting https://somosvaccination.mdland.com/p/covid/ or using New York City’s Vaccine Finder at https://vaccinefinder.nyc.gov/.


SOMOS Community Care – a nonprofit network of over 3,000 doctors serving over 1 million patients from lower-income communities of color – has led the way in providing equity and access to COVID vaccinations for all ages in communities of color, most recently teaming with Governor Hochul in the #VaxtoSchool campaign.

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