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Like clockwork: Island achieves largest inoculation site on East End with 500 doses of Pfizer vaccine administered at school

Esther Simovich was up late Thursday night into early Friday morning.

“I was binge watching ‘The Rookie,’” the 65-year-old Islander said as she waited in the hallway outside the school gym at about 9:15 a.m. to be the first Islander vaccinated in Shelter Island’s COVID-19 inoculation site. A long row of folding chairs stretched down the hallway as others waited their turn.

Staying up late before her appointment wasn’t nerves, she said, but she would admit to eagerly looking forward to being vaccinated. “It’s a relief. I have a wedding to go to in May,” she said. “I’ve got to go.”

Escorted into the gym, she went into an area of 10 vaccination sites and was greeted by Islander and Registered Nurse Kelly Surerus, who works at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, which was overseeing the vaccination site.

Ms. Surerus commented on the celebratory air of the morning, from police officers and town staffers organizing parking outside in the bright, winter morning, to school and town employees inside checking in registrants’ paperwork and guiding them to the waiting area.

“I was saying we really should have music,” Ms. Surerus joked, her dancing eyes giving away her masked smile.

One quick, expert jab, and Ms. Simovitch was done, and another Islander was ready to take her place.

Making it happen

Police Chief Jim Read, who along with Supervisor Gerry Siller, Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams, School Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D. and Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), were in attendance. They, along with Stony Brook Southampton officials, had made the Island site a reality with 503 doses of the  Pfizer vaccine arriving that morning.

But the event wouldn’t have happened without an all-hands-on-deck approach by town employees as well as volunteers.

It was no easy task. Althea Mills, chief nursing officer at Stonybrook Southampton Hospital, who organizes POD (point of distribution) events, said at the gym Friday morning, “This is by far the largest POD that we have done so far in terms of numbers of doses. We’ve done events for the Shinnecock Nation, in East Hampton for 100, 200 and 350.”

Chief Read noted that by 10  p.m. Thursday, the town had called 420 Islanders and made appointments with them, working from a list of about 600 people. The first priority for appointments were seniors 65 and older and the chief said they were still registering senior citizens.

Next on the list were  people with co-morbidities and then police officers (Chief Read said everyone in his department had been inoculated) teachers and school staff, ferry personnel, post office employees, pharmacy, grocery store, food store and deli employees, restaurant workers and home health care employees.

Chief Read said that, if it looked as though there would be vaccines still available after the first group called by the town and booked for appointments, people registered would be called and told to be at the school within an hour’s notice.

The last shot of the day was administered at 6 p.m., Chief Read said, for a total of 503 Islanders vaccinated; two thirds of those were senior citizens 65 or older.

Mr. Doelger said 38 members of the school staff — which includes teachers, office employees and maintenance staff — had been vaccinated or would be on Friday.


Islanders waiting for paperwork to be checked before entering the gym for vaccinations. (Credit: Beverlea Walz)

The operation was running smoothly at every checkpoint, from instructions in the parking lot, to lining up to have paperwork checked in a hallway inside, to a waiting area and the actual inoculation site, and then seats socially distanced on the basketball court where people waited 15 minutes until there was no sign of an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine administered Friday requires two shots and the second doses are scheduled to be administered on Friday, March 19 at the school.

Supervisor Gerry Siller said it had been a team effort by town officials, the Police Department, the school, Stony Brook Southampton and Mr. Thiele to secure an on-Island site.

“Perseverance,” was the key, Mr. Siller said, but also agreed with Mr. Thiele that “it was being in the right place at the right time.”

The assemblyman added that being ready when vaccines became available and when Stony Brook Southampton staffers were ready, made the on-Island site happen.

The Senior Center staff and other town employees were lynch pins in providing Islanders with a safe and efficient vaccination site.

“Senior Center staff worked extra hours and took hundreds and hundreds of phone calls,” said Senior Center employee Sara Mundy. “Wednesday to Friday were, of course, the most intense. I have to tell you, though, for the past year, the Senior Center staff has been busier than ever helping the senior community get through safely with COVID restrictions and safety guidelines.”

Ms. Mundy gave shout outs to her colleagues, noting that David Binder helped connect volunteer drivers with seniors who needed rides to their vaccination appointments on Friday.

“There were quite a few,” she said, “and David made it happen beautifully.”

Marissa Fanelli, Karin Bennett and Center Director Laurie Fanelli worked in the office taking the hundreds of calls to verify information for those who wished to sign up, and those who were already signed up, and kept that information streaming to Ms. Brach-Williams and Ms. Mundy.

The two women would then assign other town employees who stepped up doing the intake online, and over the phone with people so they were in the system, and scheduling could be made based on eligibility.

And there were close to 25 community volunteers organized by Cat Brigham, which included: Janice Buckley, Linda Cass, Lynne Colligan, Jim Colligan, Margaret Colligan, Michelle Corbett, Jasmine Frasco, Elizabeth Galle, Ellen Gove, Dawn Hedberg, Fred Hyatt, Emily Kraus, Kristina Lange, Kathy Lynch, Janine Mahoney, Mary Ellen McGayhey, Peter Miedema, Bethany Ortmann, Natalie Regan, Kim Reilly, Debbie Speeches, Leith Surerus, Jimbo Theinert and Gwen Waddington.

There were times when Mr. Siller worried that the Island would be passed over. “I’m much more of a pessimist than the chief,” he said. “He just kept saying, ‘Let’s prepare as if we know it will happen.’” 

Keeping the kids in school and safe

While waiting his turn to be vaccinated, Matthew Dunning, 24, a teacher’s aide in the elementary school, said, “This is really a relief.”

Working with the children, he said, “I don’t want to be the guy who gives the virus to them, and then they in turn go home and give it to members of their families.”

He was especially looking forward to attending sporting events and concerts without fear of infection.

Miguel Menendez, 48, who works as a maintenance employee at the school, was farther down the hall waiting to be called into the gym. He too, expressed relief to be receiving the vaccine not only for his own health, but for his family and the people he worked with.

The way it should be

Ms. Simovich sat on a folding chair on the gym floor, patiently waiting out the suggested time to be sure there was no adverse reaction before she could go. She works in a retail outlet at Tanger Mall and spoke about the lack of information her employer gave her and her fellow employees — who interact with the public every day — about COVID-19 vaccinations.

She had tried calling and emailing the state for an appointment, but soon found out, “I was wasting my time.”

“This is the way it should be,” Ms. Simovich said. “Here on Shelter Island. It’s really encouraging seeing everyone. It’s like the end of the chaos.”

— Additional reporting by Charity Robey