Nearly one-third of Long Islanders who are eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot have received one, state officials said Tuesday, and roughly the same percentage have done so statewide — a performance one medical expert called "disappointing."
At the same time, as the state released those figures, some pharmacists and health care systems on Long Island said Tuesday they are seeing strong demand for the shots after U.S. regulators late last week approved them for everyone over 18.
Some 324,376 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties have gotten the booster out of 981,754 eligible, the state Department of Health said.
Most of those shots have been injected since Sept. 24 — a total of 296,765.
Dr. John D’Angelo, senior vice president and executive director of emergency medicine for Northwell Health, said he thought Long Island and the state could do better.
"I think that’s disappointing," he said of the numbers. "As we enter the winter months and see rising positivity rates, the importance of vaccination in general, including boosters, can’t be understated."
The state Department of Health said that 2,121,375 New Yorkers have gotten the booster shot, just over one-third of the 6,363,074 who are eligible statewide. A total of 1,991,232 of those shots have been administered since Sept. 24.
The question, according to local pharmacists who said they are seeing strong demand, is how long that will last.
"At our pharmacy, we are getting a big demand for booster shots," Howard Jacobson of Rockville Centre Pharmacy said Tuesday. "I’m happy about it. Maybe we’re getting closer to beating this" pandemic.
Jacobson said his pharmacy did about 100 booster shots on Tuesday — not bad, he said, "for a tiny little pharmacy. That’s what the independent pharmacist does."
Part of the demand, he said, was probably the impending holiday season.
"I’m sure the holiday had something to do with it," he said. "People are traveling, being with older relatives, and they want to be fully protected."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Food and Drug Administration, on Friday ruled that anyone 18 and older can get a booster at least six months after they got their initial shots.
Before that, only certain groups such as people over 65, as well as those with serious health conditions or at high risk of getting infected, were allowed to get the boosters.
The CDC decision expanded the government’s campaign to shore up protection and get ahead of rising coronavirus cases that may worsen with the holidays.
The seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate on Long Island inched upward to 4.20% in test results on Monday, the third straight day it exceeded 4% after being below that benchmark since mid-September.
Medical experts say that the effectiveness of the vaccines can wane after six months, and the booster helps keep protection levels high.
Tom D’Angelo, who runs Franklin Square Pharmacy and is not related to Northwell's D'Angelo, said his pharmacy is quickly filling up the spots it has available for booster shots.
"We’re booking up," he said, with appointments full this week and the next availability now stretching into next week. "We keep booking and we keep ordering" more vaccine.
His pharmacy is doing about 200 booster shots this week, he said.
Northwell Health has also seen a surge of people seeking COVID-19 booster shots since the federal approval on Friday, said Dr. John D’Angelo.
"We’re seeing a little boost," he said. "There’s an initial bump."
He said that for instance, before the federal approval of boosters for everyone 18 and older, Northwell was getting about 15% to 20% of its appointments for vaccine shots filled.
That shot up to 100% filled after the federal announcement on Friday, he said.
But D'Angelo does not expect that kind of demand to continue, similar to what happened previously when other groups were approved for boosters or initial shots such as the recent case of 5- to 11-year olds becoming eligible.
"You get that initial wave," he said. "The question is: 'Will it be sustainable?'"
He also noted that the demand now is nothing like when the vaccines first became available early this year.
At that time, "you would put 2,000 appointments up" at one location "and they were filled within an hour," he said. "We’re not seeing that at all. There’s not a big rush."
Tom D’Angelo, the pharmacist, agreed that demand for boosters is likely to taper off.
"I would think it’s going to slow down probably after the holidays, because I think a lot of people are getting them now because of travel," he said.
Besides going to pharmacies and health care systems, Long Islanders can also go to state-run mass vaccination sites at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an enhanced direct messaging effort aiming to increase COVID-19 vaccination and booster rates as the holidays approach.
The SMS text message, which is being rolled out in both English and Spanish, reminds New Yorkers "to celebrate a safe holiday with loved ones by ensuring children 5 years and older are vaccinated against COVID-19, and eligible New Yorkers 18 and older receive their booster dose," according to a news release from the state.
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