On Tuesday morning, just 24 hours after the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in New York State, a UPS truck arrived at Peconic Bay Medical Center to deliver a single box of the first doses to the North Fork.
Nine months and a week after the coronavirus arrived, forcing local residents to battle for their lives and livelihoods, the weapon to win the war, as the vaccine has been described, is here.
“This is an amazing, historic day,” said PBMC president and CEO Andy Mitchell. “It’s a great tribute to science that this was accomplished so quickly.
The first recipient of the vaccine on the North Fork was Dr. Nicholas Palamidessi, chair of the emergency department at Peconic Bay Medical Center, who received his first shot early Tuesday afternoon. The injection was given by Kristen Hansen, a registered nurse at PBMC. The vaccination was met with a round of applause from colleagues.
“I saw the announcement and I immediately signed up,” Dr. Palamidessi said. “I’m very glad to be patient zero.”
Mr. Mitchell said about 50 employees were signed up to receive the vaccine, with more expected to follow.
While health care workers will be the first to receive the vaccination, they’re only part of the initial phase. In the next two weeks, residents and staff at nursing homes across the North Fork and the state will also receive their first doses as part of a federal program.
Peconic Landing in Greenport said the residents of its skilled nursing facility, about 50 men and women, will be vaccinated on Dec. 28 along with about one-third of the staff. CVS employees will administer the shots.
At Acadia Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Riverhead, the first doses will be administered by Walgreens employees sometime between Dec. 21 and the end of the year.
At all nursing homes, the second doses will be given three weeks later and a third clinic has been set up for three weeks after that so that additional staff and residents who receive their first dose during the second session can complete their vaccinations.
The state is recommending that no more than one-third of nursing facility staff members are vaccinated on the first go-round.
“In case there are some reactions, they don’t want us to have no staff,” said Acadia administrator Mary Ann Mangels.
Ms. Mangels said she’s personally excited to receive the vaccination. She and other officials at Peconic Landing want to see as many staff members as possible take the vaccine. Greg Garrett, chief operating officer at Peconic Landing, said some team members still have unanswered questions, but the retirement and life care community’s president and CEO Bob Syron said the administration is currently working hard to make sure everyone knows it’s safe.
“People say it messes with DNA, it does not,” Mr. Syron said. “We really want to help people become informed to make better decisions.”
Nearly 100% of the skilled nursing facility’s residents have already signed on to receive the vaccination, Mr. Garrett said. And Mr. Syron said most of their neighbors are ready to follow.
“Overall, our entire community is excited to get it,” Mr. Syron said. “They’re eager for some sort of normalcy to life. They see that the benefits certainly outweigh any risks.”
He said it’s been challenging for many of the residents of the community, where some of the earliest COVID-19 deaths were reported, to be in isolation for the better part of the past year. Mr. Garrett said they are hopeful that the remainder of Peconic Landing’s residents can receive their first dose in January, but they are awaiting further guidance from the state.
It’s also unclear if nursing home residents and staff who want to take a wait-and-see approach to the vaccine will be eligible to receive it through the federal program at a later date or if they’ll have to then wait for it to become available to the masses, which is not expected to happen until April at the earliest.
“My fear is a lot of people are going to say they’re going to wait, but then we won’t have it,” Ms. Mangels said. “I hope [they do] not, but honestly it’s an individual choice.”
Long Island is receiving 26,500 initial doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. New York is receiving a total of 170,000 doses of the vaccine based on a formula established by the federal government. The state is then distributing it to residents in each of 10 regions. Both formulas factor in population density. New York City will receive 72,000 doses.
The state has also identified 90 distribution centers with the capacity to store the vaccine at an appropriate temperature.
“The scale of vaccinating every person in your state is just massive,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This is going to test capacity across the board.”
The governor said he believes the initial round of vaccinations is more than enough to cover nursing homes, so patient-facing health care workers were included in the initial round of vaccinations.
After the state’s 700,000 health care workers are vaccinated, doses will next be administered to “essential workers” and the general public.
The first patients in the world to be vaccinated received their initial doses in England last Monday. One week later, Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Northwell’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, became the first New Yorker to receive it.
The vaccine is arriving as the spread of the coronavirus continues to worsen on Long Island and nationally. The seven-day average positivity reported in Suffolk County was nearing 7% on Monday, with 6,430 new cases reported in the county last week.
Hospitalizations in Suffolk were approaching 500 on Monday and the number of available hospital beds was at about 825, according to the county department of health. There were 35 COVID-19 fatalities in Suffolk last week. That’s as many as there were in the county all of last month.
“These numbers are a stark reminder of the dangers that this virus poses,” said County Executive Steve Bellone. “Everything we’ve done and continue to do is fundamentally about protecting public health and saving lives. Simply wearing a mask and social distancing can literally save lives.”