Mary O’Neill is sick of being stuck in the house. The 82-year-old from Mineola, Long Island said she’s eager to get back to lunching with her friends or even attend a Broadway show in the coming months. She emerged from the Javits Center Wednesday morning beaming, as one of the first New Yorkers to receive a COVID-19 immunization at the newly-opened large-scale vaccination site.
“My children were more concerned about me catching COVID than me,” O’Neill said, chuckling. “My oldest son, he didn’t want me to go out of the house. They’ve been driving me crazy.”
For the second time in 10 months, the state has repurposed the Javits Center in an attempt to meet New Yorkers’ pandemic needs. The cavernous event space doubled as a temporary field hospital from March to May though it went under-utilized.
State officials said they expected to vaccinate 1,000 people at the Javits Center during its first day in operation—with the aim to reach 10,000 people over 12 hours in the coming days. With a more generous supply of vaccines from the federal government, capacity could increase to 25,000 people every 24 hours, Michael Kopy, the state’s director of Emergency Management, said.
“The key thing is we can’t do that without the vaccines,” Kopy said. “We need Washington to send us vaccines so we can vaccinate New Yorkers.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio made similar overtures at a press conference earlier Wednesday, warning the city could burn through its supply of vaccines by next week. At a City Council hearing on Tuesday, health officials said unpredictable quantities of vaccine arriving from the federal government — 200,000 doses one week and 100,000 the next — made planning for distribution even more complicated.
On Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the federal government would stop stockpiling second doses, allowing the vaccines to flow swiftly into local governments in the coming days.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York has used about a third of the 1.7 million doses in its vaccine allotment. New York City has injected 267,000 doses, which is likewise a third of its current supply.
“I feel lighter. A burden has lifted,” said 74-year-old West Village resident Tom Cuff after getting his shot, who added staff on site had already booked him for a booster for next month. “It went very well, very smooth.”
While people who’d received vaccines described a relatively painless process that took less than 45 minutes, signing up for an appointment itself was another story. O’Neill was accompanied by her daughter Kerry Tice because they tried booking a spot closer to home but failed to find one.
“If this is going to get her freedom back and keep her safe then this is what we needed to do,” Tice said.
The state is urging patience, as the estimated 7 million eligible New Yorkers far outnumber the supplied on hand. As of Tuesday, people over the age of 65, essential workers, and those with certain underlying conditions can seek vaccination. Elected officials and advocates have raised concerns that the city and state’s complex online appointment system could prove an insurmountable hurdle for seniors who need the COVID-19 vaccine the most. Even some seniors who managed to get an appointment agreed.
“It has to be made a little bit easier to get the appointment, especially for those of our age that may not be as computer literate,” said Robert Stone, 83, a Manhattan resident who got a vaccine with his wife. The couple’s “very bright” grand-daughter booked their spots.
Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who also chairs the state’s Vaccine Equity Task Force, admitted that the process is less than seamless for older New Yorkers and implored more tech-savvy relatives and friends to assist the early phase of the vaccine rollout.
"People may think, ‘Well, it’s 65 and plus, well that's not me.’ But we need you to have the information so you can help those people,”