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covid vaccine

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By Leah Chiappino

With vaccination eligibility opening up, and supply increasing week by week, it has become easier to get a vaccine appointment. Still, some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers — the homebound residents — have been struggling to gain access to vaccines.

Port Jefferson EMS, which serves Port Jefferson, Belle Terre and Mount Sinai, announced April 8 it would offer homebound residents the opportunity to book at-home appointments in the coming weeks. 

However, PJEMS had to cancel all of the appointments when supplies were not received. The department’s deputy chief, Michael Presta, said PJEMS was approved by the New York State Department of Health a little over a month ago to be a vaccine distribution center, meaning they could set up pods and give vaccinations on-site. 

They were also approved to distribute in-home vaccines through the state Community Paramedicine Vaccination Program. But despite requesting doses once a week, they have yet to receive any doses. 

As they already set up the equipment, vehicles and staffing necessary for the at-home program, Presta said PJEMS reached out to the county to see if it could help. He said he was initially told the county was willing to allocate doses but has since been informed the department will need to get their doses from the state. 

In an email to Presta obtained by TBR dated April 12, Dr. Jason Winslow, director of EMS and Public Health Emergency Preparedness of Suffolk County, wrote that the county was not permitted to redistribute the doses it received from New York State.  

“The office of Suffolk County EMS has no involvement in the vaccination events other than to provide any EMS support the county requires,” the email read. Winslow suggested EMS providers join the county Medical Reserve Corps, and volunteer to give the vaccine at Suffolk vaccination pods.

The Town of Huntington was coordinating with several partners, such as the Visiting Nurse Service, to offer vaccines to residents, according to Lauren Lembo, the town’s public information officer. 

When New York State ceased using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the 24 appointments the town had scheduled were canceled. The town was also in talks with the Health Equity Task Force of Suffolk County to coordinate with Northwell Health to have homebound appointments, which also did not come to fruition due to the Johnson & Johnson temporary pause. 

County spokeswoman, Marykate Guilfoyle, said the county vaccinated 198 homebound people before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on hold. The county is waiting to see if this vaccine will be resumed before making a determination as to the next steps of the program. Appointments were made by residents who called the 311 hotline number, Guilfoyle said.

The Town of Smithtown has had similar struggles. They are looking into collaborating with St. Catherine of Siena Hospital to vaccinate the homebound, though they would likely only be able to vaccinate 10-to-20 people per week, and would only offer the program monthly due to the logistical challenges it poses. 

Smithtown public information officer, Nicole Garguilo, said that refrigeration requirements for certain vaccines, as well as the 15-minute time constraints for having to observe residents after they are vaccinated, make the feasibility of the program challenging. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, vaccines should not be unrefrigerated for more than eight hours. 

In Nassau County, a vaccination program was launched in order to provide vaccinations to homebound seniors. That, too, was put on hold after the temporary pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

In New York City, a program was launched at the beginning of March using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and was suspended. The city is now continuing with the Moderna vaccine.

County Executive Steve Bellone stands outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge where a new vaccine rollout will begin in a couple of weeks. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

A new COVID-19 vaccination site finally opened at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, where the vaccine’s mass distribution will be given out to hundreds of residents in the upcoming weeks.

The latest expansion will help Long Island recover from the consistent 4% positivity rate that surged to a height of 12% during the second spike of the coronavirus outbreak in February.

“The numbers have declined since, but they are not declining any further at this point,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said March 24. “We have undoubtedly hit a plateau and are stubbornly maintaining this approximate 4% positivity rate.”

Predicting the positivity rate would drop down to 1% by March, Bellone said his predictions did not happen. The hospitals are still hovering around 400 COVID patients and even with vaccine quantities increasing, officials are continuing to see the positivity rate at a steady level.

According to Bellone, the reason for the consistently high percentage in COVID cases is due to warm spring weather creating an overall eagerness to leave quarantine, making opportunities for locals to catch the virus.

“The fact that many people are getting vaccinated and that spring is here, people are rightly feeling optimistic and positive,” Bellone said. “That is leading to more people coming out, which is a positive thing, but we do need to be cognizant of the fact that the virus is not gone and that there are still risks.”

So far, the county has vaccinated more than 400,000 residents with at least their first dose, but expects to see a rapid increase in vaccination supply in the upcoming weeks. 

Despite the positive outcome of Suffolk County opening up its latest mass vaccination site, other areas on the Island, such as the Twin Forks, remain some distance away from distribution points. Bellone said he is aware of the problem. 

“We’ve gone to great lengths to get to every corner of the county,” he said. “We even took a plane to Fishers Island to make sure we can get residents, who are isolated, the vaccine.” 

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, Stony Brook Medicine Vice President for Health System Clinical Programs and Strategy Dr. Margaret McGovern, 25,000 COVID-19 Vaccine recipient and Southampton resident Veronica Lang with her husband James, SBU mascot Wolfie, and Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs. Photo above from Stony Brook Medicine

By Rita J. Egan and Julianne Mosher

With last week’s announcement that Suffolk County Community College in Selden will be the county’s third mass-vaccination site, in addition to the SCCC campuses in Brentwood and Riverhead, more people are itching to get their shots.

Many, who over the last several months expressed discontent with the vaccination process, were finally able to get their appointments.

Mary McCarthy, a 98-year-old Sound Beach resident, was anticipating her shot. Earlier this week, she got her first injection. 

“It didn’t hurt a bit,” she said. “I feel fine. No aftershock or anything, and I hope after the shots we’ll get back to normal so I can go see my friends again.”

Mary McCarthy, of Sound Beach, received her vaccine at Walgreens in Medford. Photo from Kevin McCarthy

The senior said she is most excited to get back with her group, where in pre-COVID times, they’d play cards every week.

Her granddaughter helped McCarthy set up the appointment at Walgreens in Medford. Her second shot will be 28 days from the first round, closer to home in the Miller Place location.

She has advice for people who might be skeptical.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “It didn’t hurt a bit, and you’ll feel better knowing that you won’t get anything else.”

Three Village resident Stefanie Werner went to the vaccination site at Stony Brook University with her 81-year-old father. As a teacher, who also has an underlying heart condition, Werner was also able to get the vaccine.

“Even though booking our appointments was stressful and nerve-racking, the actual experience was anything but,” she said. “The site is extremely well organized, with all aspects, from check-in to our 15-minute post-observation, coordinated and easy to follow.”

Werner commended the individuals working at the SBU location “from the officer at the entrance, to the members of the National Guard guiding the outside check-in — out in the snow no less — to the RNs at the registration desk and the vaccinators who were friendly and comforting, all while plunging a needle swiftly and painlessly into our arms.”

“These people are the frontline to our return to normalcy,” she said. “They are deserving of recognition for their hard work and empathy as we continue our ascent out of this pandemic.”

Due to her health problems, Werner said she has been vigilant during the pandemic.

“I honestly don’t think I am going to change my ways much after the second dose, especially with all the new variants and the fact that my daughter is in school five days,” she said. “There are still too many unknowns, and I absolutely feel more people should be vaccinated before I return to some semblance of my old normal.  It’s my hope that people maintain COVID protocols until our safety and security is more certain.”  

Adam Fisher of Port Jefferson Station also headed to the university with his wife where they “deeply appreciate the perfect organization. Our thanks to the person or persons who organized this program and all the people who staffed the site. The people were helpful, cheerful and welcoming. The shot itself was painless.”

He said the entire process went well and was a smooth process.

“From start to finish we were guided through it,” he said. “The staff was helpful, cheerful, welcoming — they could not have been nicer. The vaccination itself was painless — the most pain-free injection I ever had.”

Fisher said he felt “absolutely fine,” with the exception of a mild headache that two Tylenol tablets fixed.

“I urge everyone to be vaccinated,” he said, adding that after their second shots, the couple are looking most forward to being together with their children and grandchildren again. 

On Feb. 18, the university announced it reached 25,000 people with vaccinations within one month since the first vaccines were shipped for the general public.

“The fight against COVID-19 has been a difficult and long one, but SUNY campuses have remained steady each step of the way as the target has moved in beating back the pandemic,” said State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras in a statement. “I thank Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis and her leadership team for making this effort a priority, and for ensuring that Long Islanders have the protection they need to end this pandemic.”

The new SCCC site will add about 8,000 more vaccines as of this week. 

Paul Guttenberg, of Commack, is about to turn 52. As an EMT/driver for the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps, he was able to get the vaccine and has already received both doses at the Long Island Ducks stadium through the Northwell Health program.

“I had no side effects other than a sore arm and was tired for about one day,” he said, adding it was the same for both times.

Guttenberg, who is a sales rep in field sales, said he would like to return to a normal work schedule. He is also looking forward to traveling again and seeing his family, including his parents who live in Cincinnati, Ohio, “without fear of getting others sick with COVID.” 

“What would make me happy is to see 80% or more of this country get vaccinated and put an end to this pandemic,” he said.

Tara Shobin, 45, of Smithtown, was able to get the vaccine because she’s a teacher. She received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine Feb. 6.

“I was lucky enough to have my cousin let me know that appointments were available at Nassau Community College which was only available to teachers,” Shobin said. 

The Smithtown resident said when she showed up for her Feb. 6 appointment, she waited no more than five minutes.

“As I was waiting, I was holding back tears because I finally could see an end to this horrible virus,” she said.

After getting the shot, Shobin was told to go to the waiting room for 15 minutes so she could be monitored. She said she felt fine until the next day but her reaction was mild.

“I had a very sore arm and a slight headache,” she said.

Shobin said she’s looking forward to life returning to normal and doing things with her family, which includes her husband and two children, such as going on vacation, visiting museums and socializing.

“It crushes me to see my children’s life hindered so much,” she said. “I try to help people get appointments if I can. I can’t wait to see this horrible virus behind us. Let’s crush this virus!”

County Steve Bellone announced Suffolk County's third mass vaccination site. Photo by Andrew Zucker

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined other elected officials on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus to announce its new vaccine site.

The campus will be home to Suffolk County’s third mass vaccination site, and will administer some of the nearly 8,000 vaccines that were delivered to the state earlier this week. 

“The college is uniquely situated for this effort,” Bellone said. “These campuses are strategically located throughout the county on the west end, east end, and now in the middle of the county with the Selden campus.”

He added the Selden campus will focus on vaccinating those with comorbidities, municipal employees and Northwell Health employees.