Pictured Above: Kisa King, Resident in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stony Brook University Hospital receives the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, administered by Ian Pak, Pharmacist at Stony Brook University Hospital. | Stony Brook University photo

New York State’s allocation of Covid-19 vaccines for next week has been slashed from 300,000 to 250,000, just as 7.1 million New Yorkers became eligible to receive the vaccine.

As East Enders and people from throughout the state scrambled to find an open appointment and told stories of long waits on hold at the state’s call-in hotline and overwhelmed scheduling websites, national news organizations learned Friday that the federal government’s reserve of second doses of the vaccine had already been exhausted when Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar promised last week to release it.

“The Trump administration said they were going to expedite the second dosage and increase the state’s supply, but it turns out that was not true,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in his Friday press briefing. “They had already sent out everything they had. There was no increase in supply.”

As of Monday, Jan. 11, teachers, police officers, firefighters, public-facing grocery store workers, transit workers and public safety workers became eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in New York, along with people ages 75 and up. On Tuesday, Jan. 12 Mr. Cuomo announced a change in plans, making New Yorkers ages 65 and up eligible to receive the vaccine.

Previously, only health care workers and residents and employees of long-term care facilities had been eligible to receive the vaccine.

But bookings were few and far between at a website and hotline that went live Monday afternoon, leading to crashes and long waits. By Thursday, East End lawmakers drafted a letter to Mr. Cuomo and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone blasting the lack of vaccine sites on the East End.

New York is in the process of opening up 13 mass vaccination sites throughout the state. Sites at the Javits Center in Manhattan and Jones Beach State Park opened this week, and the state is now booking appointments at a mass vaccination site at Stony Brook University, which is expected to open later this month. These are the sites where you can book appointments through the New York State Department of Health’s Am I Eligible tool, which has frequently crashed and through the state hotline at 1-833-NYS-4VAX (1-833-697-4829).

The scheduling page for the Stony Brook University site was slated to go live Friday morning, Jan. 15, but the address was leaked to the public late Thursday, and the state had to cancel about 20,000 appointments booked before the site was slated to go live. Though several East Enders have told us they had success scheduling an appointment in Stony Brook Friday morning, by early afternoon, an error message stated “due to high volume, this site is temporarily unavailable. Please be patient and try again later.”

Mr. Cuomo said in his Friday press briefing that, in addition to the mass vaccination sites, the vaccine has been distributed to 5,389 pharmacies, 194 hospitals, 2,852 private doctor networks, and 58 city and local health departments.

The state is expecting each of these providers to prioritize a different group of eligible residents, with hospitals prioritizing vaccinating doctors and nurses, city and county health departments prioritizing essential workers and pharmacy and doctor networks prioritizing those ages 65 and up.

Most local pharmacy and doctor networks and are not yet scheduling vaccinations and have sent their patients messages asking them not to call to inquire but the doctors will inform patients when the vaccine is available.

CVS says it is distributing the vaccine in Center Moriches and Blasdell, NY (near Buffalo). On Friday afternoon the CVS vaccine appointment website simply said “Please Stand By. We’re experiencing heavy traffic. This page will automatically refresh every 30 seconds,” and by 4 p.m. it simply read “We’re sorry. All available appointments have been booked.”

Northwell Health, which distributed some of the first vaccines in the United States, had been vaccinating health care workers at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood Campus, at its administrative campus on Second Street in Riverhead and at the GoHealth Urgent Care Center in Riverhead, but no vaccine appointments were available as of Friday. Their vaccine info website is online here.

“Although the New York and New Jersey departments of health have authorized COVID-19 vaccinations for all or certain individuals in Phase 1a and 1b, CityMD currently only has capacity to vaccinate our own health care workers and a small number of outside health care workers that are referred directly to us,” says the urgent care network CityMD on its website this week. “We are working to expand our ability to vaccinate eligible individuals (per Federal and State guidelines) as quickly as possible. We will provide updates as our ability to vaccinate eligible individuals evolve.”

Both Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital are referring visitors to their websites to the state’s Am I Eligible app and asking residents not to call to inquire about the vaccine.

Though CDC guidelines currently allow people under 65 with pre-existing conditions to receive the vaccine, Mr. Cuomo said there are about 5 million New Yorkers who have pre-existing conditions. With 7.1 million New Yorkers currently eligible, this would bring the number of people to be vaccinated to 12 million. New York’s 4 million children under the age of 16 won’t be eligible to take the vaccine until trials are done in children, which means that, if people with pre-existing conditions were added to the existing eligible pool, it would amount to 3/4 of the total number of people statewide who can take the vaccine.

“At that point, it would be easier to do the list of who is not eligible than the list of people who are eligible,” said Mr. Cuomo. “I’m sympathetic and understanding of people who have preexisting conditions… I’m hoping we get more federal allocation to make this possible.”

Mr. Cuomo did have some good news on Friday, reporting that 96 percent of nursing home residents in the state had taken the vaccine, and he’s expecting them all to be vaccinated by Thursday. About a quarter of the state’s virus deaths had been in nursing homes and adult care facilities.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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