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By plane and boat, COVID-19 vaccine gets to Fishers Island residents for first dose

Fishers Island's oldest resident, Elsie Parsons, 96, receiving

Fishers Island's oldest resident, Elsie Parsons, 96, receiving first dose of COVID-19 vaccine Sunday. Credit: Suffolk County Executive’s office

The majority of Fishers Island residents received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose Sunday after Suffolk County officials packed a donated private plane and a Southold Town Police boat to bring doses and staff to the tiny remote island, officials said.

County officials flew 257 Moderna doses from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma to Elizabeth Field Airport to ensure the shots stayed cold enough to maintain efficacy on the journey, Chief Deputy County Executive Lisa Black said.

Because the four-square-mile island has no direct public transportation access to the rest of Long Island, several county vaccinators traveled by police boat to administer shots and teach local emergency medical technicians how to do so for future vaccination efforts, Black said.

At the island's K-12 school, doses were given to residents eligible under state guidelines, such as those with underlying health conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19 cases and seniors, including Fishers Island’s oldest resident, Elsie Parsons, age 96, county officials said. Essential workers who work on the island but live in Connecticut, including teachers and ferry workers, were also given doses.

With Fishers Island’s small full-time population of about 230 in normal years, Sunday’s pod could put it on track to reach the herd immunity threshold of 70% vaccinated for those who live year-round after second doses are administered, said Chris Ingram, Fishers Island’s resident physician. The island's population reaches about 3,000 in the summer, and the year-round population has risen during the pandemic, officials said.

"They were so happy, and so surprised that we pulled this off," Ingram said of residents at Sunday's pod. "There was palpable pleasure in the air."

Fishers Island is 11 miles away from the coast of Southold Town but closer to Connecticut, which has the only ferry to the island, officials said.

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Residents there have had particular difficulty accessing vaccines, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. Many of their doctors’ offices, which can provide proof they are eligible or administer doses, are in Connecticut, but they can’t get shots in Connecticut because they are New York residents. And the journey to the Long Island mainland can be long and arduous, especially for seniors and those with disabilities.

"These are people that don't have ready access to government services because they live on an island, so it's good to see the county executive’s administration recognizing the need to get out there," said county Legis. Al Krupski, who represents the North Fork.

Fishers Island is likely the only place in Suffolk that will require the use of a plane to safely transport doses, County Executive Steve Bellone said. The flight was donated by a plane-share company after residents with shares offered its use to the county, Ingram said.

"Taking a plane and a boat to Fishers Island to make sure that we could get people vaccinated is just a stark example of the challenges that we have here to make sure that we're getting the vaccine out as quickly as possible but as fairly as possible," Bellone said in an interview.

Bellone said once vaccine supply increases, he hopes to partner with other municipalities to host other local vaccine sites around Suffolk.

The family of Elsie Parsons, Fishers Island’s oldest resident, said the family was "delighted" she was able to get vaccinated because they were not sure how else they would have gotten her a dose. "I'm delighted and so grateful that people worked so hard to get it done, and she was able to get one," said Reyn Parsons, one of her five children.

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