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New state vaccination site at Stony Brook, pop-up sites open across Long Island

Pop-up sites for the coronavirus vaccine opened in

Pop-up sites for the coronavirus vaccine opened in parts of Long Island on Monday. Newsday's Chelsea Irizarry reports.  Credit: Howard Schnapp and Barry Sloan

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Lisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.

A second mass COVID-19 vaccination site opened on Long Island on Monday at Stony Brook University, along with pop-up sites in Uniondale and Bellport, as more residents rolled up their sleeves for the first of two doses protecting against the virus.

The openings were a welcome change for many from the frustration and chaos of last week's vaccine rollout, marked by online mix-ups and a supply that couldn't keep up with an eligible group that kept growing.

Stony Brook's launch follows the opening last week of the mass site in Jones Beach. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that 3,511 vaccinations had been given at Jones Beach, at a rate of 877 a day.

Five mass sites are running in the state, with eight more expected to open this week, the governor said.

Many of those vaccinated Monday at Stony Brook were among the 20,000 people who made appointments using an unauthorized sign-up web link that was improperly circulated last week, only to find out their appointments were later canceled.

The state Inspector General's Office is trying to determine whether someone leaked the link before it went live or if the site was hacked, officials said.

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Elizabeth Brown, 51, who teaches English as a New Language to high schoolers in the Longwood School District, said she was "crushed" when her appointment was canceled. But after grabbing a valid spot, she was feeling relieved.

"It’s life-changing in that my school is returning to four-day-per-week student instruction full time," said Brown, of Southold. "I will have more than 20 students in my classroom starting on Feb. 1, and this gives me that level of confidence that I won’t be bringing the virus home to my mom, who I take care of and is on oxygen."

The vaccination program was rife with confusion last week, according to officials and residents, after the number of people eligible for shots went from about 2 million to 7 million in a matter of days.

The first group approved was front-line health care workers and nursing home residents and staff. But that was expanded last week to include police, firefighters, teachers and other essential workers, and anyone over 75. And then the eligible group grew again, to include those over 65.

The changes led to turmoil as people tried mostly in vain to log onto the state's website and make an appointment for the limited number of doses available.

Cuomo, returning Monday to his frequent criticism of the federal government over the vaccine supply, released a letter he sent to Dr. Albert Bouria, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, asking for New York to purchase vaccines directly from the company. Cuomo said he has not yet received a response from Pfizer.

More than 3,760 providers have applied and been approved by the state to serve as vaccination sites. Currently, 636 locations are activated, with 105 on Long Island that include hospitals, urgent cares and pharmacies.

A pharmacy owner in Suffolk County who had quit the program in frustration last week said Monday that he has started doing inoculations again after the state adjusted its program.

Fairview Pharmacy in Port Jefferson Station, which was listed on the state website as a vaccination site, was overwhelmed with hundreds of people calling last week — even though the pharmacy had no doses, owner Michael Nastro said. He said last week he was opting out of the program since his phone system had collapsed and he could not operate his regular pharmacy business.

But Nastro said Monday that the state has removed his business from its scheduling website, which now only lists the state-run mass vaccination sites, and he was instructed only to vaccinate the 65 and older group.

That, he said, "makes it manageable for us … Now I feel like I have some control."

He received 200 doses late last week, and was starting to administer them Monday morning but still has a waiting list of 4,000 people and was unsure when he would get his next shipment.

Cuomo said another wrinkle in the vaccination effort is that many doctors and nurses working in the state's hospitals have not been inoculated themselves. As they fall sick from the virus, the staff dwindles.

Only 62.8% have received shots statewide, and Long Island had the lowest percentage of vaccinated hospital workers than any region in the state at 60.1%, according to the state.

That, combined with other, more contagious strains of the virus from the U.K., Brazil and South Africa that may arrive here or already have could create a "nightmare" situation for hospitals, Cuomo said.

St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown ranked as Long Island’s worst-performing hospital for getting hospital workers vaccinated at 43.3%, state officials said. It was followed by St. Charles in Port Jefferson (43.6%); St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn (45.7%), which is also part of Catholic Health Services; and Mercy Medical in Rockville Centre (47.2%). Long Island Community Hospital in Patchogue rounded out the list at 53.4%.

Five Catholic Health Services hospitals also ranked among Long Island’s worst-performing medical facilities in terms of administering doses allocated by the state. They include St. Catherine (51%); St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage (63%); St. Charles (75%); Mercy Medical Center (75%) and Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip (87%).

Catholic Health Services did not immediately return calls for comment. A spokeswoman for Long Island Community Hospital said, "We have vaccinated 100% of our front-line employees that are eligible and who have requested the vaccine," although she added that some who initially refused had changed their minds.

Glen Cove Hospital and Syosset Hospital, both part of the Northwell Health system, were included in the list of lowest-performing hospitals for vaccinating hospital workers. Glen Cove has vaccinated about 46.2%, while Syosset has vaccinated 46.5%.

In a statement, Northwell said it inoculates hundreds of staffers every day. "We do not make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory and expect the rate of vaccinated staff to vary from facility to facility," the statement read.

Pop-up sites open

Grace Cathedral International in Uniondale was one of eight faith-based pop-up sites to offer the vaccine on Monday.

Karim Camara, executive director and deputy commissioner at the governor's office of Faith-Based Community Development Services, said the goal is to get the vaccine to underserved communities that have been hit hardest.

There were enough doses to vaccinate 250 people at the church, according to Northwell Health president and CEO Michael Dowling, who pledged to return to the location once they receive additional supply.

Hosting clinics in familiar community landmarks is key to reaching people who may be hesitant to get vaccinated, said Tracey Edwards, Long Island regional director for the NAACP.

"If we can do that in multiple areas, you may be less reluctant because you will be on line with people you see in the store, you will be on line with your neighbors," Edwards said. "Everything we can do to make it more comfortable for people, we should do."

Jeinine Jones-Ford, of Uniondale, said she was surprised at how pain-free she felt after getting her first dose at the church.

"I don’t like needles," said Jones-Ford, 51, a postal worker and Sunday school teacher. "But I didn’t even feel it. I hope when I come back, I get the same nurse."

Residents also got shots at the Boys & Girls Club in Bellport as part of a pilot program, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

"This is a pilot in how ultimately we'll do community-based distributions," Bellone said, adding that such sites "ensure there is equity with regard to access to the vaccine."

Northwell provided 250 doses of the Moderna vaccine for the site. While no exact number of those vaccinated at the site was available Monday, Bellone said: "Turnout has been great … It's going really smoothly, people are very happy, very appreciative."

At Stony Brook, a steady stream of Long Islanders arrived for the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Mark Jennings, 62, a science teacher at Bellport High School, said getting the vaccine was critical for his health.

"It’s very important," said Jennings, of East Northport. "I am a Type 2 diabetic and I don’t want to catch this thing."

Stony Brook, which is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., administered vaccines to 500 people Monday, but will have the capacity to serve more once the state receives more doses, state officials said.

Michael Hershkowitz, 44, of South Setauket, said he felt like he "hit the lottery" when he secured a spot on the first day.

"I had six to eight tabs open just waiting to load," said Hershkowitz, a lecturer at Stony Brook University.

Martin Liptak, 69, a retired FDNY firefighter from East Northport, said he and his wife, Carol, who also was vaccinated Monday, said: "I want to get back out there and go out to eat and do the things we usually do … We want to get back to normal."

Victoria Loweree, 62, of Point Lookout, who teaches second graders in Lawrence, said she feels "very fortunate … I teach in person, so it means a lot to me to get the most protection I can."

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