On January 13th, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which once served as a COVID-19 field hospital, turned into the country’s largest mass vaccination site with the capability of administering 25,000 shots a day. Howard Zucker, New York State’s Health Commissioner, said it would take six months to vaccinate every New Yorker that wanted a vaccine.
“We consider this a wartime mobilization and lives are on the line every minute of everyday,” said Zucker when the center opened its doors.
But so far, the expectations set up on that day have not met reality as supply of the vaccine that was supposed to be the light at the end of the tunnel for millions, is limited. In fact, only 4 percent of the expected amount of shots have been given out daily since then.
“Even with the normal supplies that we expect to have delivered,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news conference in mid-January. “We will run out of vaccines.” The situation has not gotten that much better, although Gov. Andrew Cuomo did announce earlier this week that vaccination centers would start receiving up to 5 percent more vaccines beginning next week. Meanwhile, the city has also expanded their vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and some pharmacies despite vaccination demands outstripping supply and appointment difficulties.
But vaccine appointments have been difficult to get, triggering frustration among many eligible New Yorkers, who have not been able to secure a spot by logging on to VaccineFinder.NYC.gov. As of February 11th, no appointments were available on the state’s ‘Am I Eligible’ app.
However, thousands of New Yorkers have landed coveted spots and as of February 2nd, 2.2 million vaccines have been given out in the state of New York. And many that have received their shots report that the process, once inside, has been smooth and efficient, especially at the Javits Center, where the National Guard oversees the operation.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Javits Center was a hive of activity. When it opened a little over a month ago, the Javits Center accepted walk-in registrations and same day vaccinations, but after the first three days, appointments are now required.
“I was lucky my mother and I were both able to get this vaccine,” said Luisa Fernanda, a receptionist at a pain management clinic who has been concerned that she might give the virus to her 86 year old grandmother. “We have been so worried that I would infect my grandma throughout this pandemic.”
At the intersection of West 36th Street and 11th Avenue, the 15-story crystal palace serves as a safe haven for those impacted by the pandemic and look to be on the safe side again. Through the clear doors, the lucky few to land spots were greeted by uniformed soldiers from the National Guard as they approached the check-in area. Upstairs, the second floor is divided into three parts with 40 vaccination tables on the left and 80 registration tables on the right. After patients receive their shots, they are monitored for 15 minutes in a separate recovery area. This organized process takes place everyday from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and so far, the feedback has been very positive.
“It was really quick and simple. In, out, done!” said Fernanda, 24.
An immigrant single mother from Colombia also had a great experience at the Javits Center. “There was no wait,” Gonzalez said. “And they scheduled my second dose right away.”
However, Gonzalez said the initial scheduling process was not easy at all. “You need a masters degree to get the vaccine appointment,” she said, widening her eyes. “It was an entire day of sitting in front of the computer hitting refresh.”
Cinema adjunct professor at Adelphi University, Terry Ross, also pointed out what a mess he had to navigate in order to get his vaccine.. “I tried the state COVID-19 website a few times,” before he landed a spot, said the 73-year-old. Then as he eagerly waited for the day of the appointment, it was postponed at the last minute because the center had run out of vaccines. Ross, a cancer survivor with many health concerns, said he really needed the vaccine because he “certainly didn’t want to die of this horrible disease.”
Once he got in though, the experience, he said, was an easy going one.. “Everything ran very smoothly,” he said.
Of course, many credit the presence of the National Guard for running the site safely and efficiently. Major Michael O’Hagan is the Public Affairs Officer of the 350-man team that is stationed at the Javits Center. O’Hagan and the National Guard’s team motto is “always ready, always there” and he says his men came together to answer the call.
“It’s a sting of pride to be involved in this kind of a mission to help out and give hope to people,” O’Hagan told NYCity Lens.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing more satisfying to these soldiers, than to hear the words “thank you” from the citizens they fight for everyday. And that’s exactly what O’Hagan himself heard after talking to a 100 year old patient moments after she got her vaccine.
“She said: ‘In my hundred years, I’ve never been in a public building in New York City where every single person was as professional, as courteous and as kind as like the experience here, I honestly felt like I was among friends,’” O’Hagan recalled and said he felt “awesome” after hearing that.