After months of pleas by local officials, thousands of local senior citizens got their first COVID-19 vaccine shots at distribution PODs on the South Fork last week, with the anticipation of much easier access to the growing supply of doses on the horizon.
A week after administering some 2,500 doses to seniors, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is taking appointments for another vaccination clinic dedicated to senior citizens on Thursday, March 11, in Southampton. Appointments and pre-screening and consent forms can be filled out online at southampton.stonybrookmedicine.edu.
And on Monday, New York State announced that it will open a new mass vaccination site at the Stony Brook Southampton college campus that will offer daily appointments for vaccination shots, possibly as early as next week, and could be a “game changer” in the fight for vaccinations on the East End, one official said.
In the first major push of vaccinations dedicated to senior citizens in the region, Stony Brook Medicine and the staff of SBSH administered more than 1,200 doses last Thursday, March 4, at the Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton and another 1,200 at an East Hampton Town vaccination center in Wainscott on Friday, March 5.
On Saturday, East Hampton Town’s own volunteer force took control of the syringes and administered 340 second doses to the teachers, firefighters, grocery store clerks and transportation workers who had received their first doses last month, and then another 340 first doses to a second set of essential workers.
In all, more than 3,000 South Fork residents, most of them senior citizens, got vaccines last week and another 1,000-plus will do so this week — without having to travel to points far west or navigating the notoriously frustrating statewide vaccine appointment sites.
Since the vaccination effort began in earnest in January, senior citizens and the local officials tasked with serving them had been pleading with the state Department of Health to send doses east to seniors who are less able to use online appointment portals and often could not travel an hour or two to the west even if they could get an appointment.
“This was a such godsend,” said Joyce Flohr of Springs, after getting her first shot in Southampton on Thursday. “Thank goodness it all worked out.”
Both Southampton and East Hampton towns tapped their long lists of senior citizens who receive various services from the town — from transportation to meals to weekly check-in phone calls — to fill out their appointment lists. Southampton Village and local churches and other community organizations were also offered groups of appointments.
Ms. Flohr was among the more than 200 East Hampton residents who received calls from the staff of Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc’s office on Thursday morning offering appointments, typically within just a few hours, and transportation to the vaccination site.
Over the past month, since setting up its own multi-tiered vaccination logistics system, East Hampton has been compiling a growing priority contact list of senior citizens and essential workers as a quick-call list when appointments become available.
“It all happens at the last minute, of course, so on Thursday, we found out that we could get a certain number of shots, so my staff is literally picking up the phone and calling people, one at a time, hundreds of people,” Mr. Van Scoyoc recapped on Monday. “And at the same time, we were trying to schedule people for Friday, more than a thousand.”
The town has also set up its own online vaccination portal — www.ehtownvaccine.org —which serves as a pre-screening database, a contact list and a logistical hub for the information and paperwork that must be sent to New York State for each person who receives a vaccination shot.
Mr. Van Scoyoc’s counterpart in Southampton, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, said that the pop ups this week and last have been a sorely needed relief valve for seniors who have been essentially homebound for a year and were seeing no feasible avenues to getting a vaccine until last week.
“We were finally able to get to those people who were really struggling to get their vaccination shots,” he said. “It was really was an extraordinary effort. They were super well organized between the Stony Brook folks and the county executive’s office and the town and the Greek church.”
And Mr. Schneiderman said that while pop-up PODS have done a good job getting to the most in need of vaccines, the arrival of a permanent vaccination site at the college campus will be a major step in the right direction of knocking off the thousands of essential workers like teachers and restaurant workers who are still in need of vaccine.
“This will be a real game changer to have a site like Jones Beach or Stony Brook, an everyday site, not a pop-up,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “So that is very welcome. And we hope it is up and running quickly.”
The supervisor said he’s been led to believe that the site will be operational this month and possibly as soon as next week.
There have been several scattered pop-up vaccination PODs on the East End in the last two months — Stony Brook Southampton Hospital has now administered more than 7,000 shots to health care workers and senior citizens, Barth’s Pharmacy in Westhampton administered more than 1,000 more, mostly to seniors, and scattered pop-ups run by the county have doled out a few hundred doses here and there. But the state center at the college would be the first permanent state-supplied vaccination site east of the Stony Brook University campus.
While appointments for the most recent doses at pop-up PODS have mostly been arranged through the hospital or local social services departments, appointments for the state site will have to be made through the state’s “Am I Eligible” portal at am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.
Vaccine supplies have continued to lag far behind the demand for shots, but with last week’s approval of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, there is optimism that vaccination efforts will be able to ramp up considerably soon.
The state has designated dozens of mass vaccination sites state-wide and Suffolk County has said that it will use Southampton High School when it expands its own vaccinations efforts.
The state this week expanded the vaccination eligibility list to include anybody over the age of 60 and added food pantry workers to the list of front-line essential workers.
Statewide, more than 5.7 million people — just under 20 percent of the state’s total population — have received at least a first dose, and a little less than 10 percent have received both doses.
As the official allocation shifts to mass vaccination sites, Mr. Van Scoyoc said East Hampton is still asking Suffolk County to help get teachers vaccinated ahead of the re-opening of schools to in-person learning later this month. He said the town is also working with a pharmacist on getting doses allocated that could be administered at the town’s vaccination site.
“We’re all set up and ready to go,” he said. “We want to keep things flowing. I think we’re close.”