“More COVID is coming?” a woman with a shopping bag and a baby in a stroller wanted to know.

“It’s more than coming,” Richard Espinal told her. “It’s already here.”

He was standing on the sidewalk under a blue tarp at Broadway and 213th Street. This is Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood, once a first stop for waves of Irish immigrants that in recent decades has bustled with Spanish speakers from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Though the map says upper-upper Manhattan, these blocks feel a whole lot more like the Bronx.

And in the late-summer of 2021, as the highly contagious delta variant ravages the South, looking northward, there are still too many people in this part of New York City who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

This pop-up vaccination station in a van, hosted by Catholic Charities Community Services and a neighborhood group called the People’s Theater Project, is one of many efforts to improve the numbers in the city’s under-shot neighborhoods.

“We need to be ready, all of us do,” said Espinal, a Catholic Charities director who’s been working with local parishes, food pantries and other groups to get needles into arms. “People come for Mass or they come for the food, and they also get a shot,” he said. “We’ve done 1,400 so far, but we still have a long way to go.” 

Also see: Face mask fights escalate in Texas and Florida as delta variant of COVID forces Louisiana to send ambulances to other states

The $50 and $100 vaccine cash cards don’t hurt, he said. The Bronx Rising Initiative, the Morris Heights Health Center—a lot of groups are joining the effort.

When it comes to vaccinations, New York City is better off than most places, but it’s still a patchwork. Citywide, 73.6% of adults have now had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Of the city’s five boroughs, Manhattan has the highest rate, 82%. The Bronx has the lowest, 66%, with Brooklyn just a bit ahead at 67%. It’s a lot of shots, 10,262,359 as of Thursday, a number that includes some people who don’t live in the city who got jabbed here.

But there are still many reasons that people haven’t rolled up their sleeves yet, Espinal said, and he listens patiently to all of them. “There is a lot of misinformation. You have people who were hit hard by the virus last spring, and they say, ‘I got it already. I have antibodies.’ A lot of people are worried about their underlying health conditions. They have asthma or diabetes or high blood pressure or other comorbidities. Maybe they are obese. They are fearful that the vaccine is going to aggravate their underlying conditions.”

They are still better off getting the COVID vaccine, maybe especially so, he explains calmly to each of them. “A lot of people just don’t want to miss work to get vaccinated,” he said.

“I don’t try to get into arguments with people. I let them share whatever their concerns are, whatever conspiracy theories they might have heard. If something is clearly not true, I will point them where they can get the true information instead of going off whatever meme they might have found.”

And he talks from the heart.

“I tell them about my own experience,” he said, “why I decided to get vaccinated. That my wife got Moderna.
MRNA,
-0.19%

That I got Pfizer.
PFE,
+2.38%

That our daughter was vaccinated as soon as she was eligible. My hope is that after a while people start to say, ‘This guy seems like he knows what he is talking about.’”

Read: ‘I don’t want to lose you’: How families approached their loved ones about the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccination

The hard sell doesn’t work anymore, Espinal said. Neither does trying guilt people. It’s all about answering questions, making things easy and setting up in accessible places that people trust—community centers, school gymnasiums and church steps. “If we’re outside a parish church and we’re answering questions and the nurse is giving shots,” he said, “people are surrounded by family members, by neighbors and friends they grew up with. They are where they got baptized or got married. It’s just a much better location. Their pastors and priests are trusted messengers. It gives everyone a sense of security and safety.”

Then, Richard Espinal gets busy.

“I fill the air with my loud Dominican voice,” he said. “I answer people’s questions. I share my experiences. Slowly, we’re getting it done.”

Read next: Plenty of nurses, sane emergency rooms: Shell-shocked NYC holding tough against the delta variant

Ellis Henican is an author based in New York City and a former newspaper columnist.

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