East Hampton Town Effort To Create Vaccination Site Pays Off

Rose Smith, RN, takes a bundle of syringes loaded with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from Dr. Gail Schoenfeld during a vaccination session in East Hampton earlier this month. MICHAEL HELLER

Dozens of volunteers from the East Hampton community manned a vaccination site set up by East Hampton Town on Saturday and administered more than 330 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to local firefighters, teachers and essential workers — the farthest east in Suffolk County that the shots have been given out thus far.

Town officials had been working for weeks to get the vaccination POD, or point of dispensing, set up in the former CDCH school building off Stephen Hands Path and a list of volunteer medical personnel and other necessary staff in place so that if shots were made available, everything would be ready.

The town had compiled a list of firefighters, teachers, grocery and deli staff and transportation workers who had yet to receive a first dose of the vaccine, and the shots on Saturday were given out primarily to the local fire department volunteers and school staff. The town’s senior citizen transportation drivers also got shots, as well as some local grocery store and delicatessen employees — all of whom qualify under the state guidelines and are on the list of priority groups that local county governments are responsible for vaccinating. The doses that were allocated to East Hampton came from the allocation that Suffolk County gets each week from the state.

Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that getting a local facility in place and securing a regular allotment of doses was his top priority this winter, and hinted early in the week that he’d been led to believe an allocation of doses would come when the facility was ready. The town heard on Tuesday that it would be getting doses and began mobilizing volunteers and contacting those on the priority list, but was not assured everything was a go until Friday, he said this week.

“It was a wonderful day,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc, who picked up the vaccine shots from the county himself with a town police officer. “Everyone was so happy. It was such a weight off people’s shoulders — there were people literally in tears at the relief.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc on Tuesday thanked Councilman David Lys and town buildings and grounds staff for spearheading the logistics of getting the vacant CDCH building ready to be used as a medical facility, as well as Dr. Gail Schonfeld, Dr. George Dempsey and pharmacist Conor Cassera from Park Place Chemists for overseeing the various stages of the vaccine administration and the dozens of others who helped out.

In all, more than 40 people volunteered at the POD site in various roles, the town said, from registered nurses who did the delicate work of drawing the shots, to local residents directing foot traffic and filing paperwork. There were 10 people actually administering the shots, a mix of registered nurses and EMTs.

“It was incredible how many people in our community volunteered,” Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said after visiting the site on Saturday. “It was all our neighbors.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc, who spurred the creation of the site out of frustration with the lack of availability of shots on the South Fork, said he was happy with how the execution of the POD went during its first trial. The hiccups that arose were smoothed over with leg work or strategizing he said.

“We learned a lot,” the supervisor said on Monday. “The first run, we found some process issues that were slowing things down and we made some adjustments. Now that we have this site, and we know it works, I think we could easily double the number of people we could handle, maybe three or four times as many. We’re meeting today to go over ways we can increase the speed and efficiency so we don’t have any lulls and how to better queue the standby lines. We’ll be ready to do a lot more. Now we just have to get the shots.”

The town has been guaranteed to get the necessary second doses of the vaccine — which was the Pfizer formula — for those vaccinated on Saturday, but has not yet been told when it might expect another allotment of first doses to distribute.

In the meantime, Mr. Van Scoyoc said he is reaching out to pharmacy chains, which have been tasked with vaccinating senior citizens, about using the town’s POD to distribute some of their supplies to the town’s large senior population.

“I’d like to be able to offer the site in partnership with pharmacists so we can get shots to our seniors — which has to be top priority going forward,” he said. “Seniors are the most isolated out here and that is job number one for us right now.”

If the town is allotted more shots from the county earmarked for essential workers, the town still has a standing list of hundreds of teachers, grocery store and deli employees that have yet to receive first doses and could start adding restaurant workers if more shots become available.

Mr. Van Scoyoc emphasized that the town is not making appointments and is crafting its priority list on its own and asked that those seeking appointments not call town offices in hope of being added.

New York State had administered more than 2 million first doses of the vaccine as of Monday. With the addition of those with co-morbidities like diabetes to the list of those eligible, there are currently about 10 million New Yorkers who may make appointments to get vaccinated. The weekly allocations coming in from federal supply chains are still only a little more than 300,000 doses per week and it is expected to be several months before the current eligibility list is fully served.

Suffolk County has created three of its own mass vaccination sites, the easternmost of which is at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Riverhead, though appointments at the sites are still few. The county has also announced it will have a vaccination site at Southampton High School later in the spring when vaccine supplies are expected to be sufficient for beginning to give shots to the general public.