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After vaccination mishap at Jones Beach site, assurance comes — days later

Vehicles line up at a COVID-19 vaccine site

Vehicles line up at a COVID-19 vaccine site at Jones Beach on Jan. 31.   Credit: James Carbone

After the state’s revelation Monday that 81 people had been injected on Feb. 15 with syringes containing an ineffective coronavirus vaccine at a Jones Beach drive-in site, the governor’s office promised that emails would be sent to the 1,298 others vaccinated there that day to assure them their shots were effective.

Those assurances had all been sent out by Thursday afternoon, said Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — three days after the public disclosure about what happened at Jones Beach and hours after a Newsday story Thursday morning reporting that at least some, and possibly all, of the 1,298 people had not received the emails.

By midafternoon, some had gotten the emails; some still hadn't.

Stuart Levy, 84, of Merrick, an engineer, got the email Thursday afternoon, said his daughter Jill Levy, a lawyer who lives in Manhattan's TriBeCa neighborhood. Since Monday, she had tried calling the state’s vaccine hotline, to no avail, after not getting the email.

"It’s not a Bed Bath & Beyond coupon," she said. "This is life-and-death stuff."

Charon Heller of Massapequa Park, who got a vaccine Feb. 15 at Jones Beach, said Thursday afternoon that she had yet to receive an email from the state.

"I’m afraid of the virus. I really am. I’ve seen far too many people die, and I thought this was just one step closer to leading a normal life, and now I’m left in limbo," said Heller, a regional manager for a pharmaceutical company who wants to be sure her shot came from an effective dose.

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On Monday, Sterne acknowledged that some vaccines distributed in the afternoon were rendered ineffective after a staffer added a hand warmer to a cooler carrying syringes between an on-site pharmacy and tents where the shots are administered to the public. The addition of the hand-warmer, which is not according to protocol, led the vaccine cooler to exceed the proper temperature, Sterne said.

There are said to be no detrimental health effects in receiving a too-warm vaccine, but anyone who got one of the mishandled shots should be revaccinated, according to the state Health Department on Monday, the day the mistake was disclosed to the public.

Sterne said then that the 1,298 people who received effective vaccines would be sent an email from the state. Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag said in an email Thursday night that representatives had spoken with all but 2 of the 81.

Among remaining unanswered questions about the incident: When, how and by whom was the mishap discovered?

Montag said that more than half of the 81 had already been revaccinated, and that anyone with questions can email the state at Covid19Vaccine@health.ny.gov.

Evelina Braude of Queens, who got her shot Feb. 15 at Jones Beach, read in the news about the mishap and diligently refreshed her email — checking the spam folder, too. (That's where she found the email later Thursday.) But she had already decided not to wait.

On Wednesday, she told Newsday that she was considering driving to Jones Beach to check in person. And Thursday, she did just that, heading over from Suffolk County, where she was visiting family, back and forth to the vaccine site.

"I told you I'm gonna go," she said. "I don't give up."

And after speaking with site supervisors, she said, she was told she wasn't on the list of 81.

"They didn't check my name on the good list. They just checked my name on the bad list," she said, adding: "It was an hour and 20 minute schlep, but you have to take care of things."

Earlier in the week, she said, she had called up the state vaccine hotline, and was told: "If you had some side effects, you’re probably good."

Lucille Lyons of New Hyde Park, a retired CPA, hadn't thought she was affected, since her vaccine was in the morning -- the vaccine mishap happened with afternoon appointments -- but she wanted an emailed reassurance. She got one Thursday afternoon.

"You know, you worry. You don’t know what’s going on," she said. "You hear there’s bad vaccine, and then you hear nothing."

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