Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says Long Island can expect 26,500 vaccine doses in the first batch, possibly as early as this weekend. Northwell Health is prepared with multiple ultra-cold freezers. Nassau County residents can get vaccine info via text message. Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Howard Schnapp

This story was reported and written by Cecilia Dowd, David Olson and David Reich-Hale.

The first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine are expected to reach New York by as early as late this weekend or early next week.

When will the vaccine be available to all Long Islanders? Is it safe? Will it cost anything? We answer many of your frequently asked questions here.

In the meantime, a U.S. government advisory panel endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday, and a final FDA decision is expected within days.

Which New Yorkers will get the vaccine first?

Nursing home residents and staff are the top priority for the initial shipment of 170,000 doses that the state has been allocated, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday. "High-risk hospital workers," such as emergency-room workers, intensive-care employees and pulmonary department staff, are next.

After that, Cuomo said, are residents and staff at congregate-care facilities, health care workers not vaccinated earlier, essential workers and then the general population, beginning with those considered most vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19.

When can I get vaccinated?

It depends where you are on the priority list. If you’re low-risk, by June, the federal government says.

"We remain confident across our portfolio of multiple vaccines we will have enough doses for any American who wants a vaccine by the end of the second quarter of 2021," Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said in a news conference Wednesday.

Multiple vaccines? How many are there?

An FDA panel of experts reviewed and signed off on the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech on Thursday. The FDA typically follows that committee’s recommendations. The same panel will review a vaccine from Moderna next week. Both of those vaccines are about 95% effective, clinical trials showed. Several other vaccines are in clinical trials and may come before the FDA in the coming weeks.

Will there be enough vaccines for everyone?

Yes, but not immediately. There will be a limited supply of the vaccine to begin with. The CDC said its goal is to see an increase in supply over the weeks and months to come, adding that it hopes to have everyone be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as large quantities are available.

When will the vaccines be on Long Island?

The larger health systems in the region said they expect to get vaccines from Pfizer by next week. The number of doses coming in the first deliveries to each health system was still being worked out, but in total, 26,500 vaccines are slated to arrive on Long Island as soon as this weekend. They are part of a wave of 6 million vaccines nationwide that the federal government is shopping to each state, based on population, according to Cuomo.

Will I have to pay for the vaccine?

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said several weeks ago that Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers must cover the vaccine for all beneficiaries.

But pharmacies and others can charge fees for administering the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance can get reimbursement, the CDC said. Medicare will pay $45.33 for a two-dose administration, according to an agency website. Uninsured people can get reimbursement from a fund set up by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Where will I go to be vaccinated?

The precise locations in New York are still to be determined for the general public. The CDC said there will be several thousand vaccination locations nationwide, including pharmacies, hospitals, doctors’ offices and federally qualified health centers, which serve many low-income and uninsured people.

The state said Walgreens and CVS employees will travel to nursing homes to administer the vaccine to residents and staff there. A Long Island nursing home administrator said a CVS webinar for long-term-care facilities said CVS employees would administer the vaccine to residents in their rooms, and to staff in a centralized area.

Some vaccine candidates — such as from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — require two injections a few weeks apart.

I heard that two people in Britain had severe allergic reactions after taking the vaccine. Should I be scared to take the vaccine?

The average person should not, said Dr. Onisis Stefas, chief pharmacy officer at Northwell Health.

"I think it’s important that people do receive the vaccine," he said. "In the event there is an allergic reaction or anything else, we do have health care providers and [equipment] to treat those folks."

British investigators are studying whether the reactions were a result of the vaccine. A British government agency said people with a history of severe allergic reactions to vaccines, food or medicines — like the two people in Britain who had a reaction — should not take the vaccine. Other vaccines and medicines also carry allergy warnings.

Don’t these vaccines need very cold storage?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored long term at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is much colder than a standard freezer. Cuomo announced Wednesday that the state has identified 90 sites statewide where the vaccine can be stored at that temperature. The Moderna vaccine requires a temperature similar to that of standard freezers.

The Pfizer vaccine can last up to five days after thawing in a standard refrigerator, and the Moderna vaccine can last for 30 days.

"Moderna may be used more within the community and ambulatory practices that don’t have the infrastructure for the ultracold storage," Stefas said.

Will I have to get another COVID-19 vaccine a year or two from now?

How long immunity will last is unknown because it’s only been a few months since people have begun receiving vaccine shots. "Only time will tell," Stefas said.

Hasn’t this process been rushed?

"Even though this has been an accelerated process, the science is not being compromised," and safety is being analyzed, said Dr. Martin Backer, associate director of the vaccine center at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola.

Azar said "you don’t have years of data of safety information" but, he said, there will be monitoring for safety after people receive the vaccine, and 90% of "adverse events" are seen in the first 42 days.

Documents filed with the FDA found that some people taking the Pfizer vaccine had fever, joint pain and chills, and redness, swelling and pain at the injection site.

With AP

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