The Mets baseball stadium at Citi Field finally opened as a mass vaccination hub Wednesday morning, but with significantly fewer doses than promised.
Appointments began at 10 a.m. and the hub will be open 24 hours a day through Saturday at 6 p.m.
The site is part of a targeted effort to reach many more vulnerable city residents in underserved areas like northeast Queens as well as food service workers and taxi drivers. Multiple political representatives have referred to the region as a “vaccine desert,” including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards who urged the mayor to open the site more quickly in a letter on February 7th.
“As we continue to lose too many loved ones to this virus, ensuring equitable access to these vaccines for all our families, especially those in historically underserved areas is not just a matter of convenience — it’s a matter of life and death,” said Richards.
The 7-day average COVID positivity rates in neighboring Flushing has been over 15%, signaling high community spread in the area.
Officials have reserved 50 percent of the vaccine appointments at Citi Field for eligible Queens residents who meet the state’s Phase 1a and 1b qualifications and 50 percent for restaurant workers and licensed taxi and limousine drivers from any borough. Queens residents can make an appointment through the city’s vaccine finder website or through the call center number “1-877-VAX-4NYC.” A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office noted that food service workers can book through community-based organizations, while drivers can book through the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
“No one bore the brunt” of the pandemic more than Queens residents, said Mayor Bill de Blasio in his daily briefing Tuesday. Queens was notably the epicenter of the pandemic last spring with 5,882 confirmed deaths from February 29th to June 1st , 2020 – the most of any borough. Still, demand greatly outpaces supply: the mayor admitted that Citi Field only has enough vaccines right now for 200 appointments a day, much less than the initial goal of 5,000 to 7,000 a day, 24/7.
The city initially prepared to open the site back in January along with Yankee Stadium in the Bronx but pushed back the start dates for both locations after facing a vaccine supply shortage. The Yankee Stadium location opened for appointments last Friday. When asked why the Yankee Stadium site had over four times as many doses than Citi Field, Mayor de Blasio claimed that “that specific plan for Yankee Stadium was one developed with the state.”
The mayor and Queens Borough President Richards’ opening dedication drew crowds in the morning, but the opening also attracted dozens of confused and emotional residents who were turned away for not having advanced appointments, according to the Queens Chronicle. However, most of the fanfare died down by 1 p.m. By mid-day, a few check-in staff members greeted a limited number of patients who arrived for their appointments once every 10 minutes.
Some eligible workers who came for their injections, like Erin Darby, who previously worked as a restaurant server in Manhattan, were excited to finally get their first shot after months of waiting. “I’m feeling relief,” said Darby. “I hope everybody gets the vaccine.” Darby has been furloughed until enough of the restaurant staff where she works could be vaccinated.
Other patients like Queens-based TLC driver Harry Pavlatos, who had come to Citi Field for his injection, remarked that the site was very well organized, and that he was able to secure a spot through the TLC portal online. “I was in and out in 40 minutes,” he said.
However, many Queens residents expressed confusion and anger at the facility staff throughout the day when they tried to schedule appointments in person but were turned away. Other eligible residents reported technical issues when trying to schedule their appointments online through the city’s vaccine portal, with slots running out in minutes.
Paris Sorel, a District 30 schoolteacher who lives within walking distance of Citi Field, said she tried to schedule an appointment over the phone as soon as slots opened, but they disappeared as soon as the agent tried to select them for her. “It’s extremely frustrating,” she said. “If they wanted to prioritize our jobs and our lives, they would have had the vaccinations brought to the schools.”
The city hopes to scale up vaccinations at Citi Field as soon as next week when they get more supply. “We’ll be starting up again next Wednesday with appointments around the clock,” said Julie Volcer, the senior communications director for the NYC Health and Hospitals Test and Trace corps.