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Appointments available: Once-crowded sites have spots in vaccine line

On Friday, in response to a report that

On Friday, in response to a report that fewer people were being vaccinated for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said access and information were key to getting more people to take the shot. Credit: NY Governor's Office

The demand for COVID-19 vaccinations on Long Island appears to be slowing down as hundreds of appointments remained open late this week and local officials searched for ways to get more people inoculated.

This is a far cry from two months ago when people scoured websites at all hours to find appointments and the state’s mass vaccination sites at Jones Beach and Stony Brook were booked weeks in advance.

On Thursday afternoon, the state’s website had appointments at both locations.

Experts said some people may be waiting to get vaccinated at more convenient sites, like their doctor’s offices or pharmacies close to home.

The change in demand also could show the people who want the vaccine are receiving it, leaving health officials with the daunting task of convincing those who are reluctant.

Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Nassau County’s health commissioner, said he thinks "supply and demand are leveling off," even though he is hopeful hesitancy will decrease as people see others get vaccinated.

"Our job is not done yet," he said. "Two-thirds of our eligible residents are vaccinated, and that's remarkable, especially when you consider for the first, really, three months of this, there was very limited supply."

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More than 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, with 89 million people — or 26.9% of the population — fully vaccinated, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A troubling national trend emerged over the last week showing a drop in the number of shots being administered.

"We have reached the people who are most eager to get vaccinated in many cases, and now the challenge is to reach the unreached," Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the CDC and former New York City health commissioner, said during a Thursday interview on MSNBC.

Nassau is looking into ways to accommodate more people, including offering evening hours and allowing walk-in appointments at the vaccination sites it operates, Eisenstein said.

The county receives about 6,900 doses a week from the state. It uses some at its own sites, such as the Nassau Coliseum, but also distributes to partners who set up clinics in various communities.

Suffolk County officials also said there are appointments available at vaccination clinics in Hauppauge, Selden and Riverhead. It sets up local clinics to help vulnerable residents and those who have trouble accessing larger sites.

"We have plans to visit the Shinnecock Nation in the near future for education and outreach," said Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Health Department. "At the same time, the federal government is increasing availability in pharmacies, and it is likely that as we move forward, neighborhood pharmacies and even physicians’ offices will take the lead in vaccinating their patients."

As of Thursday, about 8.5 million people — more than 43% of the eligible population — across New York have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and more than 5.9 million, or 29.7%, have completed their vaccination, according to state figures.

In Nassau, 49.1% of the population had received at least one dose, and in Suffolk, 42% of the population had received at least one dose.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday that "it was inevitable that you were going to hit … a point of hesitancy" in demand but added "we are not at the point yet where people are not making appointments."

He said the state will continue efforts to provide access and information to urge residents to seek the vaccine.

'Some people need a nudge'

Health experts believe somewhere between 70% and 85% of the country’s population needs to be inoculated to reach herd immunity and stop the virus from spreading.

Dr. Anthony Szema of Three Village Allergy & Asthma in South Setauket vaccinated about 30 people at St. James Roman Catholic Church in East Setauket on Thursday.

That was short of his goal.

"Ideally, I wanted to do a hundred," he said. "I think there is more availability, but there's more to it. Did we not publicize it enough? There is also hesitancy, geriatric patients who don't know how to use the internet, and some people need a nudge."

Szema had vaccine left and was planning to make appointments at his office.

As of Thursday afternoon, Northwell Health had roughly 800 appointments available at locations in Nassau and Suffolk. The number of slots dwindled to about 350 by evening, still presenting a sharp contrast from days not long ago when they disappeared by the minute.

Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director for Northwell's vaccination program, compared vaccine doses to tickets for a popular band in concert.

"In the beginning, there's incredible interest and only a few spots," Harris said. "As supply increases, it's not as difficult to get in.

"What's unclear at this point is whether the available appointments are because interest has fallen off or the supply is more robust. It could be a little of both," he added.

Harris said the federal government’s decision last week to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could have added to some people wavering on getting the shots.

Northwell, which does not disclose its vaccine supply, added that it can store about 2 million doses in ultracold freezers and regular storage refrigerators, said Onisis Stefas, Northwell's chief pharmacy officer.

"There's a tremendous urge to get people vaccinated and as quickly as possible as variant strains continue to occur," Stefas said.

Tom D'Angelo, who runs home infusion pharmacy Americare in Garden City South and Franklin Square Pharmacy in Franklin Square, said he received about 200 doses this week and is "making calls to get people, so we can use them all."

He had only about 60 appointments from customer requests and might order less vaccine in coming weeks.

"I don't want to spend my time," he said, "chasing people down to take the vaccine."

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