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News Flash: Generated by ChatGPT, edited by our staff

• FDA approves RSV vaccines for the first time. These vaccines target the respiratory syncytial virus, a seasonal lung-related illness, with recommendations for adults over 60 and pregnant women in specific gestational weeks.

• Infants under eight months born to mothers without the RSV vaccination can receive monoclonal antibody treatment, providing immunological protection against severe RSV symptoms.

• There are challenges in accessing RSV shots, including delayed processing by insurance companies and pharmacy shortages. Health officials urge residents to advocate for themselves, emphasizing the importance of timely vaccinations given the approaching RSV season.

For the first time, vaccines against the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV — a lung-related illness that crops up during the fall and winter — have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA recommends that adults ages 60 and older receive a dose of the vaccine, either Pfizer’s Abrysvo or GSK’s Arexvy, within the next few weeks.

Women in their 32nd to 36th week of pregnancy at some point during September through January are also urged to receive Abrysvo.

For babies born to mothers who didn’t receive a dose of the RSV vaccine, the FDA has approved a monoclonal antibody treatment for infants eight months old and younger that will offer immunological protection against a common and prevalent respiratory condition that can lead to severe symptoms and hospitalizations.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a dose of RSV antibody for children between eight and 19 months entering their second RSV season if they have chronic lung disease, are severely immunocompromised, have a severe form of cystic fibrosis or are American Indian or Alaska Natives.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. File photo from Stony Brook Medicine

While local doctors welcomed the opportunity to inoculate residents, they said finding these treatments has been difficult.

“People are having a hard time getting” the vaccine, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Some pharmacies have told patients to come back, which decreases the likelihood that they will return for vaccinations in time, Nachman said.

Additionally, insurance companies have not immediately processed requests for vaccinations, which also slows the process, she said.

Nachman recommended that residents “continue to go back and advocate for yourself” because that is “the only way you’ll get what you need.”

RSV season starts around November, which means residents qualified to receive the vaccine or parents with infants need to reach out to their health care providers now to receive some protection against the virus.

Childhood illness

According to recent data, RSV caused 2,800 hospitalizations per 100,000 children in the first year of life, Nachman said. The range can go as low as 1,500 per 100,000.

However, that only captures the number of hospitalized people and doesn’t include all the times anxious parents bring their sick children to doctor’s offices or walk-in clinics.

“Hospitalizations are the worst of the group, [but] it’s a much bigger pyramid” of people who develop RSV illnesses, Nachman said.

In addition to recommending monoclonal treatment for children under eight months old, the CDC urges parents to get this treatment for vulnerable children who are under two years old.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. File photo

Like other vaccinations, the RSV vaccine won’t prevent people from getting sick. It will, however, likely reduce the symptoms and duration of the illness.

“In trials, RSV vaccines significantly reduced lower respiratory tract lung infections serious enough to require medical care,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Health Commissioner, explained in an email.

At its worst, the symptoms of RSV — such as fever, cough and serious respiratory illness — are problematic enough that it’s worth putting out extra effort to receive some immune protection.

“If you’re a little kid or an elderly patient, this is a disease you don’t want to get,” Nachman said.

Pigott said that data analysis shows that RSV vaccines are 85% effective against severe symptoms of the virus.

While people can receive the COVID-19 and flu vaccines simultaneously, doctors recommend getting the RSV vaccine two weeks later.

According to preliminary data, eligible residents may benefit from the RSV vaccine for two seasons, which means they would likely need to receive the shot every other year, according to Pigott.

With two vaccines approved for adults, Pigott recommended that people receive whichever shot is available.

“Both reduce a person’s chances of getting very serious lung infections,” Pigott explained, adding that several measures can help people protect themselves from the flu, RSV and COVID.

Getting a vaccine, washing hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoiding close contact with people who are sick with respiratory symptoms and wearing a mask in places where respiratory viruses are circulating can all help.

Those who are symptomatic should stay home when they are sick and wear masks when they are around other people.

Suffolk County Department of Health Services officials indicated they are aware of the challenges of getting shots and monoclonal antibodies and “ask people to be patient.”

Stock photo

Local health care providers were eager to start administering doses of COVID-19 vaccines to children who are 5 to 11 years old, which they can now do after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the shots for children late Tuesday night.

“We definitely saw more cases [of COVID-19] in children after school started this year,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We’d like to prevent that.”

Health care providers would also like to stop household transmission, in which a member of a home spreads the virus to everyone else with whom that person lives.

“Children usually get milder forms of COVID, but they can transmit disease to people around them,” Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital, explained in an email. “It is not unusual for children to bring COVID in the home and then household members to be exposed and get COVID, especially if they are unvaccinated and immunocompromised.”

In considering whether parents should get shots for their children, doctors urged parents to speak with their family pediatricians.

“They are the experts in your child’s care,” Nachman said. “They’ll have the most insight into who your kid is.”

Pfizer BioNTech said the vaccines, which were a third of the dose of an adult shot, were over 90% effective against symptomatic COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization for vaccines for this age group.

“Authorization of the vaccine for younger children is an important step in keeping them healthy and providing their families with peace of mind,” Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the group, said in a statement. “The vaccine will make it safe for children to visit friends and family members, celebrate holiday gatherings, and to resume the normal childhood activities that they’ve missed during the pandemic.”

Doctors urged parents with children who have underlying cardiac or respiratory issues to give serious consideration to vaccinations that could prevent the spread of a virus that could be especially problematic for their children.

“Someone with underlying cardiac issues, if they were to get COVID-19, would have increased risk of poor outcomes,” Nachman said. “They should be prioritized. Waiting to get COVID is not a good idea.”

The same holds true for children with asthma, who could develop more problematic symptoms from contracting the virus, Nachman said.

While the doses for children will be lower, the immune system of younger people is more reactive than that for adults, which is why pharmaceutical companies tested a lower dose in their clinical trials.

Even with the smaller volume of the vaccine, “children will still not have waning immunity,” Nachman said. “It will be just as effective” as the higher dose for adults.

Besides having more reactive and resilient immune systems, healthy children also will likely have milder side effects from the vaccine because of the lower dosage.

To be sure, every child who is in this age range and becomes eligible for the shot shouldn’t immediately receive the vaccination.

The clinical trials didn’t include children with cancer or with other immunological difficulties.

“We did not enroll [children with those conditions] in clinical trials,” so it would be difficult to know how effective the vaccine would be for them, Nachman said.

Down the road, vaccinating a classroom of children in this age category could lead to a reduction in the current restrictions designed to protect the health of students and their educators.

“It’s too soon to say the next steps,” Nachman said, which could include learning without masks. Further information about the spread of the virus after vaccinations would inform future guidelines.

Popp added that booster needs for children in the future is also unknown.

“Data will be gathered and [officials] will see if this will become necessary,” Popp said.

Photo from Deposit Photos

With the Food and Drug Administration expected to vote this week on boosters for Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19, local doctors suggested the current studies may support some switching, particularly for those who received a single dose of Johnson & Johnson.

“There is preliminary data that has demonstrated that mixing and matching the vaccines may be beneficial,” said Dr. Sunil Dhuper, chief medical officer at Port Jefferson’s St. Charles Hospital.

Indeed, recent studies suggested that people who received the J&J vaccine had a considerably higher increase in their antibody response from a Moderna booster than from a second J&J shot.

“There may be some merit” to switching from the traditional method J&J deployed to create an antibody response to the mRNA-based approach from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, Dhuper added.

Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital, added that data from studies with J&J are “showing that folks who received the initial J&J vaccine may benefit from receiving a booster with Pfizer or Moderna as this may lead to a very high immune response.”

As for side effects from the boosters, Popp explained that the reactions are similar to those for the initial series of vaccinations.

In an email, Popp noted that the Moderna booster is half the dose of the original shots, which “may lead to a decrease in side effects.”

Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of the Healthcare Epidemiology Department at Stony Brook Medicine and assistant professor of Infectious Diseases in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, is pleased that “many people are quite eager to obtain boosters. This bodes well for enhanced protection as we enter the indoor/ holiday season.”

In another encouraging sign, the percentage of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Suffolk County continues to decline, with the seven-day average falling to 3% as of Oct. 19, which is down from 4.2% a month earlier, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health.

Sporting events

Meanwhile, people have been attending college and professional sporting events in large numbers, often without masks. These competitions haven’t yet produced documented superspreader events.

“Outdoor venues overall provide a reduced opportunity for spread compared to indoor events,” Donelan explained in an email. “If proof of vaccination or a negative test within a set time frame (e.g. 72 hours) before the event is required for entry, it is reasonable to anticipate that inadvertent spread can be limited.”

Other health care professionals also suggested that outdoor events, despite thousands of people standing and shouting to urge on their teams, presented lower risk than indoor gatherings.

“In an outdoor event, the virus would get diluted within seconds,” said Dhuper. “You’re not going to get a high dose” of any viral particles at such a gathering.

As for the bigger picture, Popp said he is “happy to report that, as of Oct. 6, the fully vaccinated rate is 69% in Nassau and 65% in Suffolk. It is not as high as we would like to see, but it is an increase of 7% to 8% since July 29.”

Health care professionals urged residents who haven’t already done so to get a flu shot soon.

“With all the attention on COVID vaccinations, masks will come off as people are reassured that they are safer in regards to COVID, and flu will ‘take advantage’ of this scenario,” Donelan explained. “We need to be vaccinated against both viruses.”

Photo from Deposit Photos

Amid a steady drumbeat of worry and anxiety, the last week produced several potential encouraging signs in the battle against COVID-19.

Pfizer recently applied for emergency use authorization for a vaccine for children who are five to 11 years old, a group that has returned to school but that hasn’t yet had access to any vaccines.

Pfizer will get early approval as “long as the [Food and Drug Administration] has enough data,” said Dr. Sunil Dhuper, chief medical officer at Port Jefferson’s St. Charles Hospital. “They’re going to get early approval.”

A vaccine would be a welcome defense for children who now constitute anywhere between 25% and 35% of infections, Dhuper said.

Vaccinations for those over the age of 12 have helped drive down an infection rate that had climbed toward the end of the summer.

In recent weeks, the percentage of positive cases in Suffolk County has continued to decline, with the seven-day average falling to 3.2% as of Oct. 10, according to data from the Suffolk County Department of Health.

While health officials and pharmacies continue to administer booster doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, Johnson & Johnson has applied for Emergency Use Authorization for a booster dose that enhances the immune response to the virus.

As of now, people who received J&J’s original vaccine are not eligible for the Pfizer BioNTech booster, according to Dr. Sritha Rajupet, director of Population Based Health Initiatives and director of the Post-COVID Health Clinic at Stony Brook Medicine,

Meanwhile, Merck recently produced a drug in pill form called Molnupiravir that reduced hospitalizations and death by 50% when taken within the first five to eight days of developing COVID symptoms.

The drug didn’t completely prevent hospitalizations or death but greatly reduced it, generating excitement in the health care community. Merck applied earlier this week for emergency use authorization for Molnupiravir.

“It’s a great study,” Dhuper said. “We are very delighted that there is going to be another alternative” treatment for patients.

Up to this point, hospitals, urgent care centers and doctors have not had access to an outpatient drug.

When given at the onset of symptoms, Molnupiravir acts like the flu drug Tamiflu, helping to reduce the symptoms and health challenges associated with COVID-19.

This medicine could help reduce hospitalizations, providing relief to patients and enabling hospitals to manage their resources better, Dhuper said.

Doctors remained cautiously optimistic about the ongoing battle against COVID-19. Dhuper added that the real challenge for the community would come within the next three to four weeks, during which time hospitals and count officials will watch carefully for any increase in infections in between when children return to schools and the FDA approves any vaccine for this age group.

Long haul issues

While health officials were pleased with the potential availability of additional medical tools to prevent or treat COVID-19, they said numerous residents continue to battle long haul COVID.

Described as persistent symptoms that can develop four to eight weeks after the initial symptoms, long haul COVID can include fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, palpitations and a wide range of other neurological discomforts.

Doctors said 10 to 35% of people who contract COVID can develop these longer-term symptoms.

Long haul COVID-19 remains a “big concern,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, wrote in an email. “We remind people who remain unvaccinated that people of all ages have suffered from long-range symptoms” from the virus. “We don’t know yet if these symptoms will be limited or if they may develop into chronic life-long conditions. We will be looking at the literature to learn more.”

Dhuper said some of those with long-haul symptoms feel as if they are “continuously living with an illness, almost like a flu.”

Such extended discomfort has an extended impact on the quality of life.

Treatment of these long-haul symptoms “is tailored to the patient’s specific symptoms,” Stony Brook’s Rajupet described in an email. “Identifying the organ systems involved and the symptoms or autoimmune conditions that have manifested are essential to developing a treatment plan.”

Rajupet suggested that leading a healthy lifestyle, with balanced sleep, nutrition and exercise can help in recovery. Stony Brook encourages this approach not only in the management of long-haul symptoms, but also for a patient’s overall health.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) rallied with health care workers to boycott Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) vaccination deadline, Sept. 27.

Zeldin, who is campaigning for governor, joined other elected officials outside the state building in Hauppauge Monday just hours before health care workers were required to get the COVID-19 vaccine by midnight or risk losing their jobs.

On Monday night, Hochul signed an executive order to significantly expand the eligible workforce and allow additional health care workers to administer COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. 

According to the mandate, if health care workers do not receive at least one dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines by the end of day Monday — without a medical exemption or having previously filed for a religious exemption — they will forfeit their jobs. 

The congressman has been vocal over the mandates, locally and nationally. 

“Our health care workers were nothing short of heroic the past 18 months,” Zeldin said. “We shouldn’t be firing these essential workers. We should be thanking them for all they’ve done for our communities.”

Zeldin was calling on Hochul to work with medical facilities and the state’s health care workers to “implement a more reasonable policy that does not violate personal freedoms, fire health care workers who helped us through the pandemic’s worst days, and cause chaos and staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes.”

Hochul stated this week that to fill the vacancies in hospitals, she plans to bring in the National Guard and other out-of-state health care workers to replace those who refuse to get vaccinated.

“You’re either vaccinated and can keep your job, or you’re out on the street,” said Zeldin, who is vaccinated.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said he was angered when health care employees were given limited ability to negotiate the vaccine mandate through their unions.

“This isn’t a state of emergency, like a hurricane,” he said. “This is a state of emergency that people get fired, and not going to have unemployment insurance. I am a union leader. This is a disgrace to all Americans.”

According to the state Department of Labor, unvaccinated workers who are terminated from their jobs will not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. A new Republican-led bill introduced in Albany would restore those jobless benefits.

On Tuesday, the state released data noting the percentage of hospital staff receiving at least one dose was 92% (as of Monday evening) based on preliminary self-reported data. The percentage of fully vaccinated was 85% as of Monday evening, up from 84% on Sept. 22 and 77% on Aug. 24.

 “This new information shows that holding firm on the vaccine mandate for health care workers is simply the right thing to do to protect our vulnerable family members and loved ones from COVID-19,” Hochul said in a statement. “I am pleased to see that health care workers are getting vaccinated to keep New Yorkers safe, and I am continuing to monitor developments and ready to take action to alleviate potential staffing shortage situations in our health care systems.”

Long Island’s three health care providers have already implemented the mandate and are taking action. 

Northwell Health, the state’s largest private employer and health care provider — and which includes Port Jefferson’s Mather Hospital and Huntington Hospital — previously notified all unvaccinated team members that they are no longer in compliance with New York State’s mandate to vaccinate all health care workers by the Sept. 27 deadline.

“Northwell regrets losing any employee under such circumstances, but as health care professionals and members of the largest health care provider in the state, we understand our unique responsibility to protect the health of our patients and each other,” Northwell said in a statement. “We owe it to our staff, our patients and the communities we serve to be 100% vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Catholic Health Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Jason Golbin said in a statement that the provider is “incredibly proud of our staff’s dedication to protecting the health and safety of Long Islanders during the COVID-19 pandemic and are grateful for their heroic efforts over the last 18 months.”

He added, “In keeping with our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of our patients, visitors, medical staff and employees, we are complying with the New York State vaccine mandate for all health care workers.”

Golbin said that as of Tuesday, Sept. 28, the vast majority of staff is fully vaccinated with only a few hundred people furloughed from across six hospitals, three nursing facilities, home health care, hospice and other physician practices. 

Stony Brook University officials added Stony Brook medicine has been preparing for New York State’s mandate all healthcare workers get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the deadline. 

As of 8 p.m. on Sept. 28, 94.07% of Stony Brook University Hospital employees have been vaccinated, and this number continues to increase, 134 Stony Brook University Hospital employees are being placed on suspension without pay and will be scheduled to meet with Labor Relations representatives to discuss their circumstances. While awaiting this meeting, they can use vacation or holiday time off. If they continue to elect not to receive the vaccine, they will be terminated in accordance with the NYS DOH order. 

Less than 1% of the hospital’s total employee population are in a probationary employment period and while they are currently suspended without pay, they are still eligible to be vaccinated before their terminations are processed and could still return to work. 

Officials said these numbers are fluid and are expecting further declines.

From left to right: Frank Mathews, Corinne Behrens and Isabella Zimmerman. These three Centereach High School seniors chose to get vaccinated this month and are encouraging their friends and families to do the same. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It’s a month since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that all New Yorkers ages 16 and over would be eligible for vaccinations as from April 6.

Three seniors at Centereach High School took advantage of the vaccine earlier this month and wanted to share why they chose to do it and why they feel their friends should, too.

Corinne Behrens, 17, got her first dose of the Pfizer shot on April 21, said she chose to get the vaccine because she battled COVID-19 last year and didn’t want to experience that pain again. 

“My dad works in a hospital, so he got COVID last year right at the beginning, and then my brother and I both got it,” she said. “I actually had the worst symptoms of my family. For a solid month, I was out of it.”

Behrens said that after experiencing the horrors of the illness firsthand, living with a frontline worker, she knows the shot will bring things back to normal.

“I definitely have a couple of friends who are anti-mask wearers, and also who don’t think the vaccine is going to do anything,” she said. “They find it all pointless, and that COVID is just like a laughing matter, a big joke.”

But she hopes by sharing that she believes in the science, that others will “take it more seriously, especially definitely with the new variants.”

“We’re still finding out new things about it,” Behrens added. “And it’s definitely something that everyone should take seriously, because people have it and people are still dying.”

She said she’s looking forward to when there are less restrictions for her day-to-day life and for the time where she can sit around a campfire with her friends, again. She hopes to pick up where 2020 left off.

“Everything that I had planned out already wasn’t going to happen,” Behrens said. She missed out on visiting colleges, taking her SATs and fundraising with her school clubs for trips and events that would have normally taken place if it weren’t for the virus.

“Definitely try to get the vaccine if you can,” she advised. “Because then we’re all spending less time in this situation, and we all just want to get out of it and go back to our normal lives without a mask.”

Frank Mathews, 18, said that getting the vaccine was a no-brainer, opting to get it even earlier than his peers because he works at a supermarket. Mathews said his household has several high-risk individuals who he wanted to keep safe as he worked in the public throughout the pandemic. 

When he got his Pfizer shots in March, he was just sore at first but with the second dose he felt ill. In the end, he felt the day in bed was better than contracting coronavirus.

“It’s better to be prepared for it, rather than to give up,” he said. “Especially because we’re all young, high school kids. So, I think it’s better for us to get it now.”

Mathews said he knows a lot of people who are against the vaccine and wearing masks, and he understands their concerns. 

The senior who plans on attending Suffolk County Community College said he’s looking forward to going camping again, and having a sense of normalcy. He said his 16-year-old brother and older brother decided to get their vaccines, too. This extra line of protection in his home gives him hope that life can pick up where it left off. 

“We all have to act together on this,” he said. “We all have to keep our masks up, you know, wearing them properly, too. All these things are all factors to contribute and everything we all have to do together, and that’s the only way we can get through this properly.”

Isabella Zimmerman, 18, who committed to Utica College to study physical therapy, was unsure about getting the vaccine at first. 

“I was on the fence just because obviously I want my life back,” she said. “I want to be able to do things and not worry. But at the same time, it’s so early that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”

After weighing the pros and the cons, Zimmerman decided to get her Pfizer shot the first week of April.

“I feel like, at the same time, if they’re making it so accessible it can’t be that dangerous,” she said.

Her parents both got the shot, she said, and gave her the option to choose for herself. 

“But I feel we don’t have much of a decision anymore because we’re at the point where we want to be young, and live our lives and travel still,” she said. “And all those things pretty much require a vaccine.”

She said at this point it was easier to get the vaccine instead of constantly worrying what she was allowed and not allowed to do. 

Zimmerman said she felt discouraged this year because she missed out on the highlights of her junior and senior years.

“I feel not enough people are acknowledging it, how hard it is on us,” she said. “It’s so hard to keep coming in and paying attention when everything is virtual or there’s nothing fun to do after school.”

By getting her vaccine, she said she’s looking forward to working her summer jobs hopefully without a mask, and getting back to her life prepandemic. 

“Going into college, it’d be nice to have some kind of group gatherings and parties to meet people,” she said. “It’s going to be hard going to school, especially if you’re going away … you don’t know anyone and there are no group gatherings. No one wants to become friends over Zoom.”

Photo from Deposit Photos

Vaccine appointments will available Saturday, April 17, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center located at 739 NY-25A in Mount Sinai for people aged 50 and over.

The office of Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) can help interested residents register for an appointment by calling 631-451-6963.

Pexels photo

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has paused dispensing of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at its vaccination dispensing locations, following state and federal recommendations while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review data about an extremely rare type of blood clot that has been reported in six people who received that vaccine in the United States.

As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine have been administered in the U.S. CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving a rare and severe type of blood clot that was reported in six people after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.

Suffolk County officials are not aware of any cases occurring among the approximately 2,000 residents who have received this vaccine through the County Health Department thus far. Those residents who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care practitioners promptly.

“While this issue appears to be extremely rare, CDC and FDA are acting in a very cautious manner that underscores our commitment to vaccine safety,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Commissioner of Health Services. “We will be closely monitoring the federal review process and use that information to help guide our efforts here in Suffolk County in the days ahead.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine represents about 2% of the total supply of vaccines the Suffolk County Department of Health has received to date, so the pause is not expected to dramatically slow the pace of vaccinations dispensed by Suffolk County. As Suffolk County Department of Health Services does not maintain data on all vaccine providers in Suffolk County, other dispensers may have received and dispensed varying percentages of Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the community.

Residents who currently have appointments to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should watch for a notification from their provider about canceling, postponing or rescheduling the appointment. If your appointment is cancelled, you can look for other vaccination appointments through the Vaccine Locator map, local pharmacies or your area.

CDC will convene a meeting of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on April 14 to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates the cases.

Meanwhile, until that process is complete, Suffolk County health officials will continue to dispense the allocations of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines that the county receives from New York State.

Julianne Mosher Assistant Superintendent Joseph Coniglione, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn and Board Trustee Corey Prinz join physical education teacher Vincent Roman as he gets vaccinated on Monday. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Comsewogue School District wanted to give back to its community, and by doing so, they got over 300 residents vaccinated. 

Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of the district, said that the board was working to coordinate receiving vaccines to distribute from local drug stores — but it wasn’t happening for a while. After realizing a student worked at Walgreens, they were able to set something up.

“I have to say, they have been so great,” she said.

Quinn said the district initially opened it up to staff, and about 150 people took advantage of it. 

On Tuesday, March 16, socially distanced tables were set up throughout the gym, helping people receive their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Then Walgreens was kind enough to let us put it out to the general public, and we were able to get other people from the community to be vaccinated,” Quinn added. “We had such a strong response that Walgreens has offered to come in a second day for our community.”

Assistant superintendent Joseph Coniglione said that although it happened quick, everyone is “extremely grateful.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Comsewogue students will be returning to a five-day school week starting April 6 and bringing the vaccine to staff and teachers gives them peace of mind.

“We were really concerned about having staff to come back, who wanted to be vaccinated, but were not able to get the vaccination,” Quinn said. “So, this was such a relief.”

Corey Prinz, a board trustee who was instrumental in helping coordinate the event, said that about three weeks ago, the team realized it was important heading toward the full-week re-turn and began working toward this goal. 

“Part of the mindset people had coming back stemmed from the idea that vaccinations are really spread out,” he said.  “And it didn’t actually look so good, so we stuck on it and even under short notice, it’s unbelievable the response we got today.”

Quinn said they are working with the drugstore to allocate another day to host another event soon.

Frank Vene, and his daughter Laraine Kelly, were able to be vaccinated at Suffolk County Community College last week, with help from Legislator Nick Caracappa. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Finding it difficult to make and obtain a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, 101-year-old WWII veteran Frank Vene was finally able to receive his Pfizer vaccination last week with the help of Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden).

As with many seniors, Vene and his 78-year-old daughter, Laraine Kelly, did not have access to the technology needed to book a vaccine, and had to rely on their friends and a family member to help them make an appointment — all to no avail. 

“Neither I nor my sister have a computer,” Kelly said. “We’ve been trying to make an appointment for months, but nothing was available.”

Even with the help of a family member, trying to book an appointment online became nearly impossible, as available spaces would fill up within minutes. They were not able to reach anyone over the phone due to disconnections or being placed on hold for hours. 

Seeing the difficulty Vene and his daughter were having trying to book a vaccine appointment, a neighbor of Vene’s called Caracappa and voiced their concern for the veteran. He took immediate action.

“It was a frustrating process for them, but due to the diligence of our office of constantly monitoring the county’s website, we were able to hit it right and got two appointments scheduled for Mr. Vene and his daughter,” Caracappa said. “We were very fortunate to get them, because 99% of the time there is no availability.”

Despite feeling nervous about the vaccine, Vene expressed his excitement about receiving it because he will now be able to see his grandchildren again. The last time he was able to see any family was in March of 2020. 

On Wednesday, March 10, he finally received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and gave a thumbs-up while nurse Daria Castrogivanni finished up the rest of his paperwork.

“I thank Mr. Caracappa 100% because without his help we would’ve never got here,” Kelly said.