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Island seniors waiting word of vaccines: Hoping for an Island inoculation venue

Chris Lewis wants people to stop talking and take action.

“I haven’t seen anyone in East End governments really jumping up and down about this,” the former town councilwoman and deputy supervisor said Monday, speaking about opening more vaccination facilities and, especially, one on Shelter Island.

Just as an early in-person voting venue for Shelter Island was a non-starter for county and state officials in last November’s election, so it seems a vaccination venue here might go the same route.

Ms. Lewis, who is currently the president of the Shelter Island Senior Citizens Foundation, said she’s been in touch with the Senior Activity Center recently, offering the use of the foundation’s bus to take people to venues off-Island for vaccinations. “But I really don’t want people to be bused to Stony Brook,” she said, noting that she’s seen televised images of long lines at facilities. “People with walkers and in wheelchairs. It’s outrageous,” she said.

Ms. Lewis mentioned that the town had “done a fabulous round of pneumonia and flu shots at a drive-thru here in September.” She wondered why that couldn’t be replicated, but also acknowledged that the town’s senior services “are working hard to get this done.”

In a letter last week to the Reporter, Ms. Lewis stated: “The Town Board should be exerting all their efforts to creating a comprehensive plan to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine to those who are eligible. This means dealing with the state, the county and private drug chains. This means supporting Senior Services, particularly as it tries to set up an inoculation center here for a population with economic, vision and computer issues.”

She counts herself in the latter category. Even though she has an iPad, she’s “not very good on it,” and uses it mainly to keep in touch with her grandchildren.

Seniors shouldn’t have to navigate the internet or wait hours on the phone to schedule an appointment for a potentially lifesaving inoculation, she said.

Personally, she’s doing well, considering herself fortunate to be living with her son and daughter in-law, although they have kept her on strict practices during the pandemic. “I barely go out,” she said. “I’ll tell you this — be careful when you raise your children, not to be too strict, because they will grow up to get even with you.”

She feels safe, and is looking forward to the spring and post-vaccination “when I’ll break out.”

Former Supervisor Jim Dougherty said Sunday that “it’s easy to pin blame” on a lack of leadership when it comes to vaccinations. “But I’m dissatisfied on the lack of long-term planning on every level of government. State and local governments could have done better.”

Jim Dougherty (Credit: Reporter file photo)

Mr. Dougherty said that getting the population vaccinated should be the number one priority of government.

He’s doing well, rationing his trips to the Post Office and keeping in shape with long walks on Reel Point and Ram Island beaches. A cancer survivor and one who has battled heart disease, Mr. Dougherty said there are many seniors like him who should be getting vaccinations against COVID-19 as soon as possible.

Gary Gerth, another former supervisor, said that like other senior citizens on the Island, “we’re in a waiting game. The distribution of the vaccines has been a mess.”

Gary Gerth (Credit: Reporter file photo)

Mr. Gerth also believes that the first priority of the local government is securing a place on the Island for vaccinations.

He’s put off making doctor’s appointments to keep himself as safe as possible from becoming infected with the virus, but some appointments can’t be postponed, including seeing his optometrist.

In the meantime, he’s staying as safe as he can, limiting contact with others as much as he can. “But you do have to go to the IGA for a head of lettuce now and then,” he said with a laugh.

Nancy Butts, a polio survivor who lives alone, said she’s doing fine, staying put and reading, watching TV and cleaning the house. “It’s so clean, I’m at it all the time.”

Nancy Butts (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

Her son and daughter visit her frequently, but everyone is masked and maintains social distance. Ms. Butts is ready for everyone to be vaccinated. “I can’t wait to hug and kiss some people,” she said.

She has seen Dr. Josh Potter at the Medical Center, who told her he didn’t know if, or when, vaccines would be available on the Island.  She had high praise for the physician. “I haven’t been to a doctor in years who sat and spoke with me, answering questions, taking his time, like he did,” she said.

Mollie Strugats tried scheduling an appointment for inoculations for herself and her husband Robert, but kept getting responses that the system was overloaded. “A total mess,” she added.

Mollie and Robert Strugats. (Credit: AmbroseClancy)

Their personal physician has an office in Greenport and she’s scheduled for an appointment there where she’ll ask questions.

Being cooped up these months has “been frustrating. We want to go places, do things.”

But she’s patient, and waiting.