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Drive-thru vaccination site at Jones Beach providing COVID-19 shot in arm

As the state's first drive-thru only mass COVID-19 vaccination site opened Thursday at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh, elected officials held a news conference in Hauppauge to criticize Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about the state's vaccine rollout. Here is Newsday's Chelsea Irizarry. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman; Howard Schnapp; File footage

The state's first drive-thru-only mass COVID-19 vaccination site opened Thursday morning at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh as motorists lined up and waited anxiously to be inoculated against the coronavirus.

State officials anticipated vaccinating 700 people during the site's first day of operation — a small figure for a massively large venue — but can ramp up capacity and staffing to administer 5,000-10,000 doses per day once the federal government increases its vaccine allotment.

"This is the largest governmental operation in our lifetime," said Michael Kopy, the state's director of Emergency Management, during a news conference at Jones Beach.

The state's other major vaccine hubs all require walk-in appointments but Jones Beach visitors remain in their cars the entire time — from the check-in process to the point when health officials inject the needle into the recipient's arm.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that about 300,000 doses have been shipped each week to New York, yet more than 7 million residents were now eligible for the vaccine. At the current rate, it would take six months to get through just the New Yorkers now eligible to be vaccinated.

"The federal government needs to do better," Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said. "We need Washington, D.C., to step up and provide doses so we can get the shots out to protect New Yorkers."

The Jones Beach vaccination center, at Field 3, is by appointment only and open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to anyone eligible to receive the vaccine.

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The facility is staffed by volunteer and contract medical officials and is distributing only the Pfizer vaccine. The vaccination process, officials said, takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and appointments are made on-site for a second dose.

The state opened three other mass vaccination sites on Wednesday, including one at the Javits Center in Manhattan, with more vaccination centers set to be announced in the coming days, including at Stony Brook University next week.

Lisa Burke, a teacher from Massapequa, said she "lucked out" and was able to make one of the first available Jones Beach appointments.

"It's very relieving," Burke said as she drove out of the South Shore site on Thursday. "It's nice to know I can go to work and be safe. My students can be safe because I have less a chance of contracting COVID at this point."

And while dozens of vehicles waited in line Thursday morning, with the row of cars bleeding onto Ocean Parkway, tens of thousands of Long Islanders were not so lucky.

Many complained about a glitchy online appointment system that would frequently crash, or a state hotline — 833-697-4829 — where they would get repeatedly disconnected when trying to schedule an appointment.

And with a scarcity of vaccines and demand overwhelming supply, the next potential available appointments won't come until late April, the state said in an alert on its website Thursday.

"This rollout, if it was a consumer product, would be a huge failure and the respective folks would probably have a very poor performance review at year end," said Rich Kamzan, 66, of Lido Beach, who had difficulty with the state system but was eventually able to make a vaccine appointment Tuesday at an urgent care center in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, GOP state, county and town officials held a news conference in Hauppauge on Thursday, charging that the vaccine rollout had been a "failure," with their offices inundated by calls from confused and "distraught" residents seeking information.

"Millions of New Yorkers have no idea when or where they can receive their life-saving shots, and they feel totally abandoned by their state government," said State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore).

State officials said they were addressing the IT problems and that more spots at Jones Beach and elsewhere would open once they receive additional doses from Washington.

"The process is moving as intended," Kopy said. "We recognize that there are some minor glitches and they are being addressed."

Long Islanders who were lucky enough to get an appointment Thursday expressed relief and prayed that a return to normalcy was around the corner.

"It is important to get the vaccine because I am scared of getting the virus," said Saul Horowitz, 86, of Melville. "The death statistics are staggering."

Sharon Smith was able to make an appointment for her mother, Charlotte McKenna, 88, of West Islip. But Smith, of Islip, was unable to secure a spot for herself.

"Mom is high risk and we need to have her vaccinated ASAP," Smith said.

McKenna said she was "grateful" to get the shot.

"I am just praying," she said, "that things will get back to normal after this."

With Chelsea Irizarry

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