Due to her high-risk status for COVID-19, Donna Hartz, 66, of Rego Park, Queens, has adapted to only leaving her house for doctor’s appointments concerning her rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s disease, diabetes, and small fiber neuropathy, among other autoimmune disease.
“I’ve been in the house almost a year,” said Hartz, who tried registering to get the Covid-19 vaccine on the same day that New Yorkers 65 and older became eligible to receive it by immediately emailing two of her doctors.
“They just sent me back a form letter that I’m on the list but there’s no vaccine,” said Hartz. “It makes me feel like I’m going to die from this stupid thing”.
After almost a year of tragedy where the city has lost over 26,000 New Yorkers to COVID-19, the city’s residents saw the approval of Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines in early December 2020 as the light at the end of a deadly tunnel. However, delays in vaccination distribution due to shortages in supply have dampened spirits and reignited all-too-familiar pandemic fears that the NYC Department of Health won’t be able to deliver the help New Yorkers so desperately need.
“We don’t have the supply of vaccine that we need. We urgently need more flexibility with the supply we have,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio during his daily briefing on January 25.
As the weeks wore on, De Blasio has tried to give good news with the bad news of the present shortage. On January 25, de Blasio announced that conversion of Citi Field and Yankee Stadium into mega vaccination sites with the capacity to vaccinate as many as 5,000 to 7,000 people per day was postponed until the city secures the supply it needs.
President Joe Biden ordered 200 million more vaccine doses — double his initial promise — and NYC should receive 17,000 more doses per week starting the first week of February. The 15 NYC Department of Health Vaccination Hubs will be resurrected and provide additional hours of service, but vaccine distribution “can’t go to full strength until we have the supply,” the mayor said on January 28.
To get an appointment for a vaccine, New Yorkers are sent to VaccineFinder.NYC.gov. After inputting their zip code, residents must comb through a list of providers that individually manage their own appointments. Some lucky ones find spots, but sometimes it might mean having to traverse the city for their first dose.
Ann Holt, 70, who is from Staten Island and immunocompromised due to chronic lymphocytic leukemia, grabbed an appointment in Brooklyn because the pickings were so slim in Staten Island. The day before her would-be appointment, however, she got a call at 5:15 p.m. telling her that it was cancelled.
“I guess I fell in that group of appointments that were canceled due to the shortage that was all over the news,” wrote Holt to NYCityLens in an email. Her appointment in Brooklyn was rescheduled for February 4.
Victor Kaminoff, 72, from Queens expressed frustration that users must input all of their information into websites before they’re able to see whether or not appointments are available, as neither he nor his husband are able to type fast enough to seize potential opportunities. “That was, I think, the most frustrating part: trying everywhere and finding nothing,” said Kaminoff.
Kaminoff and his husband, Joe Reisman, 70, also trekked across boroughs for their first dose. The couple hails from Queens—and each of them snagged different appointments. But Kaminoff’s appointment at Mount Sinai in Manhattan was cancelled. So he ended up going to Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Soundview, Bronx with his husband for his appointment. They convinced a nurse to vaccinate them both.
When Reisman and Kaminoff were waiting at the site during the 15 minute post-vaccine observation period after receiving the Pfizer vaccine, they attempted to make appointments to receive the second dosage of the shot. However, they didn’t have their patient portal login information, so they were unable to make an appointment on site. When they tried to do so upon returning home, they got appointments for February 26 — five and a half weeks after they got the first dosage, and far delayed from the CDC’s stated administration timeline, which says that the doses of the Pfizer vaccine should be given 21 days apart.
Reisman called the Bronx County Health Department six times before someone picked up to try to reschedule the second dosage appointment. “We were very stressed out, both of us,” said Kaminoff. “This whole thing is scary.”
“We’re in a bind,” said Reisman, who explained that Kaminoff was recently in a coma for three months after his lungs collapsed as a result of the poor air quality from the California wildfires when they were visiting Los Angeles in 2016. “He still takes oxygen at night,” he added. “I’m really worried about him.”
Kaminoff and Reisman still do not have appointments within the stated administration timeline for their second shots.
“We’ll go anywhere, but anywhere won’t take us,” said Reisman.
Meanwhile, Hartz of Rego Park is still having trouble scheduling her first vaccination dose. She’s afraid she might not get vaccinated until the summer. “That’s six months away,” she said. “I’m in the house for six more months.”