The Struggle To Find Vaccination Appointments

A resident gets vaccinated at the “Yes We Can” Community Center in New Cassel. (Office of the Nassau County Executive)

New York State lowered the age of COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to 30 on March 30. Starting Tuesday, April 6, vaccine shots will be open to anyone 16 and over.

In the short run, this will likely exacerbate the effort by many eligible residents to land a vaccine appointment. It is not known when the expected influx of vaccine doses will match the widening pool of eligibility.

As of 8:30 a.m. on April 1, New York’s “Am I Eligible” website showed that the only available appointments at state-run sites were in distant upstate areas.

“The demand continues to outstrip the supply of vaccine particularly as more people become eligible,” said Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH, senior vice president of Community and Population Health. “Northwell posts available appointments for vaccinations at Northwell sites.  When we are out of appointments at our sites, we redirect people to other options including the opportunity to look at the New York State website for appointments.”

Northwell Health is the largest hospital system in New York State. When last checked, its COVID-19 page refers visitors to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine website for appointment availability.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and County Health Commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein have had a front seat to the disparity between supply and demand.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran gets vaccinated by Health Commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein. (Office of the Nassau County Executive)

At a recent pop-up vaccination site in Westbury, Curran was asked about the struggles of eligible people, especially seniors, to get an appointment.

“I hear that frustration every day from our residents,” Curran replied. “The supply is still not enough to meet the demand and not enough to meet the number of people who are eligible right now. We are expecting the supply and demand numbers to get together and equalize, and I’m looking forward to that moment. I want everyone who wants that vaccine to get the vaccine.”

Eisenstein was asked, “How has the vaccine distribution been going?”

He replied, “So the vaccine comes down from the state in different allocations. And sometimes it’s a little more and sometimes a little less, depending on what other initiative they’re opening. But the trend has been upward. I know everyone is waiting for more Johnson & Johnson [doses]. [With] the first [batch] they emptied out their warehouses. It’s going to be a week or two probably before we see more.”

He added, “I think by the end of [March] there’ll be more Johnson & Johnson and dramatically more Pfizer and Moderna. So, in the next few weeks, as we open up, for example, a site like the Nassau Coliseum—you can’t do that unless you get a lot more doses. We’re planning in anticipation that there’ll be a lot more vaccines.”

In a press release on March 31, Curran stated that “500,000 residents will have received their first COVID-19 shot, or approximately half of the county’s adult population. With four County Department of Health vaccination sites, a designated hotline for seniors and veterans, robust partnerships with community providers, and a unique pre-registration vaccination website, Nassau County has become a model of the COVID-19 vaccination distribution in New York State. Nassau County currently has the highest percentage of residents (36.7 percent) with at least dose of the vaccine among New York State counties with population of more than 500,000.”

State Senators Can Help

Joseph Agovino, a spokesperson for Senator John Brooks (D–Seaford), confirmed that Brooks and the other state senators have helped many of their constituents—especially seniors—secure vaccination appointments.

The following are the senators who cover all of Nassau and the western parts of Suffolk Counties:

District 5—Sen. James Gaughran
District office: 485 Underhill Blvd., Suite 102, Syosset, NY 11791. Phone: 516-922-1811.

District 6—Sen. Kevin Thomas
District office: 990 Stewart Ave., Suite LL45A, Garden City, NY 11530. Phone: 516-739-1700.

District 7—Sen. Anna Kaplan
District office: 1 Old Country Rd., Suite 270, Carle Place, NY 11514. Phone: 516-746-5924.

District 8—Sen. John Brooks
District office: 5550 Merrick Rd., Suite 205, Massapequa, NY 11758. Phone: 516-882-0630.

District 9—Sen. Todd Kaminsky
District office: 55 Front St., Room 1, Rockville Centre, NY 11570. Phone: 516-766-8383.

District 11—Sen. John Liu
District office: 38-50 Bell Blvd., Suite C, Bayside, NY 11361. Phone: 718-765-6675.

Click on the district maps for larger images:

Pharmacies

From the CVS website:
COVID-19 Vaccines in New York: Must live or work in New York. Teachers and staff in Pre-K-12 Schools, childcare centers, Head Start, Part C Intervention and licensed home visitors. People age 30+. Age 16+ with a condition that increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Find appointments here.

From the Rite Aid website:
Rite Aid can only make appointments to administer the doses we receive. Please understand that our customer care and pharmacists cannot schedule appointments and do not have information about future appointments. Rite Aid is currently authorized to vaccinate the following groups: Ages 30+; Pre-K-12th grade educators and staff; childcare workers; family childcare providers; Head Start and Early Head Start educators. Find appointments here.

From the Walgreens website:
Limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines are now available in some states at select stores to individuals—16 years of age and older for Pfizer, 18 years of age and older for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen)—who meet state-specific eligibility criteria. If you don’t meet your state’s eligibility criteria for a COVID-19 vaccination, you are not eligible to receive a vaccination at this time. Find appointments here.

From the Stop & Shop website:
New York stores are currently offering the two dose series of Moderna. NYC, Carle Place, Miller Place, Northport, Long Beach and Hampton Bays are offering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Both vaccines are only authorized for ages 18 and older. Information about Stop & Shop’s vaccine can be found here.

Walmart offers vaccinations at its pharmacies in 46 states—but its website does not list New York as of March 26. Anton Media Group reached out to the company, and a spokesperson informed us that it does offer shots in the state. Visit here.

We also learned that the ShopRite pharmacy at its Plainview store had received a supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccine on February 27. The person who relayed this information said she was informed to call the next day to be put on a waiting list for an appointment call-back. ShopRite spokesperson Laura Panza said that shoppers can use the online scheduler to make an appointment.

Help In Numbers

Groups have sprung up in the metropolitan area to help people secure appointments, especially seniors.

Nassau resident Ericka Bolte and Suffolk resident Melanie Gorman started a Facebook group on Feb. 8 called Long Island COVID-19 Vaccination Information. They got the idea from Lisa David Meyers, the administrator of a similar group serving New York City.

“I had already scheduled my vaccine appointment based on the insight and tips I found on that group. So when the request was made to start a Long Island group, I felt like it was just a good idea,” Bolte said. “I knew if it wasn’t for being in the NY group, I wouldn’t have even thought about calling the NY Vax Hotline to make my own appointment. I would probably still be going crazy looking for something on the NY State website.”

Asked for her thoughts on the vaccine rollout, Bolte replied:

If you asked me before we started the group and I became more educated on the vaccine rollout and the various different options people have to get appointments, I probably would have told you that I thought it was unnecessary difficult. But since starting this group and becoming more knowledgeable on the process, I actually think that if you are aware of all the options available to you and you have a little bit of time and patience that it isn’t as difficult. Every appointment that I’ve personally scheduled for friends and family in the past two weeks, I’ve been able to do on the state “Am I Eligible?” website in under an hour by just focusing on one location and refreshing until something pops up—something that I wouldn’t have thought of until someone shared that little tip on our Facebook group.

I do think that both Nassau and Suffolk Counties need to communicate more efficiently about the vaccination sites they oversee so that people know about all the options they have available to them. Those are usually the sites that I find people on my group know very little about until someone puts a post up about them. Which is probably the best thing about this Facebook group, the willingness people have to share any information they come across to help complete strangers get a vaccination appointment. It helps restore faith in humanity after what has been such a tough year.

In a follow-up email on March 20, she wrote:

A screenshot of the Long Island Covid Vaccination Information Group.

I’ve seen a lot more availability open up in terms of appointments—between state sites, pharmacies, county run sites, pop up locations—it’s a lot easier now to make an appointment if you know where to look. [It’s] a problem that the Facebook group solves along with a few of the Long Island Vaccine Twitter bots that notify you when a facility drops appointments.

The approach to finding appointments is also different now—in part because refreshing on a local state site isn’t always possible now since the state is starting to move the various locations on to a new system where you can’t refresh and hope for new times to pop up. The approach now is to look at everything and see which locations have open availability within the next week or two. Sometimes that’s the state sites, sometimes it’s the county sites, but it’s also the pop-up locations. The best bet is to just see what people have recently posted—like last night, someone posted up a link to a pop-up at Mount Sinai location in Rockville Centre that had 77 available appointments for next week. I have no idea how people even come across finding out about most of these pop up locations—but that’s the benefit of having a group with almost 15,000 people, you find out things without having to do the research yourself.

Also, the three new Long Island state locations are a major help. Along with the fact that pharmacies can offer it not only to seniors now but teachers as well—and they can also choose to extend that to co-morbidities if they have enough supply to do so. It really is a completely different experience finding a vaccine appointment now than it was two weeks ago. I’d never be able to find all these resources on my own. As cheesy as it sounds, it really does takes a village.

Getting The Vaccine

• Governor Cuomo announced the opening of 10 mass vaccination sites, including one at SUNY Old Westbury. They opened on Friday, March 19. Eligible New Yorkers will be able to schedule appointments by utilizing New York’s ‘Am I Eligible’ website or by calling the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).
• The Nassau County Coliseum is now a county-run vaccination site. Visit the county’s COVID-19 website to get the latest information on testing and vaccination sites and to make appointments. However, if you want to make an appointment at the Coliseum, you need to put in a special code, which is Nassau21, when registering.
• Curran also unveiled, on March 18, a dedicated vaccine hotline just for county seniors: 516-227-9590.
• Veterans can get their vaccine at Nassau University Medical Center. Make an appointment through the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency at 516-572-6565.
Frank Rizzo
Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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