NYC health officials repeatedly stated that COVID-19 vaccine takers would receive a confirmation for second-dose appointments while on-site for their first shot. But tipsters tell Gothamist that this hasn’t happened for everyone getting jabbed. They’ve spent days searching for follow-up appointments—echoing the struggle mere weeks ago when thousands of newly eligible workers and older adults sought their initial doses.
“I am at a loss,” Fran Antigone, a 74-year-old Midwood resident, said in a Monday interview. “I’m angry, frustrated, I feel powerless, and I feel stupid.”
Antigone got her first shot of COVID-19 vaccine at Beach Channel Educational Campus in Queens on January 20th. Instead of staffers booking her next visit, she was told to make an appointment online after receiving an email.
But when she tried, the earliest availability was more than three months out at city vaccine hubs. She searched everyday for nearly a week until the city sent her an alert Tuesday evening to make an appointment with new openings that had appeared.
“What was I supposed to do? Sit there and go on strike, and wait ‘til the lights were shut off and there was nowhere for me to go?” Antigone said. Another Lower Manhattan resident, Jackie Leopold, reported a similar delay and weeklong hunt for a second appointment, ultimately finding one at a different site in Downtown Brooklyn.
A slow start, technical issues, and doubts about equitable distribution have stymied the first six weeks of the vaccine rollout. A vaccine site at the Armory in Washington Heights, a majority Hispanic neighborhood, had zero Spanish interpreters on-site, resulting in a reporter for THE CITY stepping in on Tuesday.
NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi acknowledged Tuesday that second appointments aren’t always made right away.
“Anyone who receives a first dose appointment either already has or will receive a second dose appointment,” Chokshi told reporters during a press conference Tuesday. “In the vast majority of cases, this is scheduled at the time of the first dose appointment.” But when it doesn’t happen, there are “safeguards” in place to ensure they get a second time-slot.
A spokesperson for the city health department blamed the booking problems on the supply challenges—that local and state governments face across the nation. The health department remains committed to scaling up hubs so jabs can happen once deliveries arrive.
“More second dose appointments are online now,” spokesperson Victoria Merlino said in a statement to Gothamist Tuesday. “The Health Department has opened thousands of new second dose appointments at our Vaccine Hubs, and we encourage anyone who has been having trouble booking a second dose appointment to check again.”
Around 82,500 first doses remain, according to the city’s vaccine tracker. More than 564,000 people will require a second dose in the coming three to four weeks, depending on whether they received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, respectively. The city has 284,032 second doses on hand, though Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that the Biden administration's recent maneuvers would increase the city’s weekly supply by 17,000 doses.
“That means 17,000 more shots of hope, 17,000 more New Yorkers who are safer and are feeling that confidence and that sense of peace that comes with getting vaccinated,” de Blasio said, adding that the city could treat 500,000 people per week with enough supply.
The emerging coronavirus variants place extra urgency on completing a full course of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, as mounting evidence shows new versions of the coronavirus may eventually bypass our immunity. While the current vaccines are expected to work against the variants, that scenario may hinge upon receiving the maximum protection afforded by taking both doses of the authorized vaccines.
“They are really a hugely important weapon to get out of this pandemic. But they're really only going to work effectively if most of us actually take them,” said Paul Bieniasz, a virologist and a professor at The Rockefeller University in New York City.
Natalie Dietz, a 34-year-old music teacher in Manhattan, got her first dose at John Adams High School in Queens, where she was told to book a second appointment as soon as possible, but it took her days before she could sign up.
“We’re already busy, and then we have to check this website every hour to try and secure our appointment. That doesn’t seem like a very efficient system,” she added.
Her time slot is 34 days after her first dose—a longer timeframe than the 28-day recommendation for the Moderna shot, but within the 42-day window allowed under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s a little disconcerting, to say the least,” Dietz said. “[A]lthough it’s fantastic that we’re prioritized as teachers to be vaccinated.”
With reporting from Lois Parshley.