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Good news on the COVID vaccine front

Lines form at Jones Beach where drivers arrived

Lines form at Jones Beach where drivers arrived to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 21. Credit: James Carbone

The signs are hopeful. Progress in the fight against the pandemic continues.

More than 16.9% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders. President Joe Biden is saying there should be enough vaccine doses produced for all adults in the nation by the end of May.

Still there is a long road ahead. As of now, there are few vaccine sites on Long Island, with many people maddeningly trying to find an appointment. As more doses become available, officials must expand vaccine access for Long Islanders, from 24-hour sites to shots brought right to the doors of homebound seniors.

New York City features four state sites, including two partnerships with the federal government, and additional mass vaccination locations such as at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. Long Island still has its original two — Jones Beach and Stony Brook. Long Islanders are traveling to the Javits Center or Aqueduct Racetrack or close to the Canadian border. While those 65 and over can take advantage of pharmacy locations and hospital venues, others such as those with underlying conditions, taxi drivers and restaurant workers have limited options.

That’s why Mayor Bill de Blasio is wrong to suggest that state sites in the city should be off limits or accepting fewer out-of-city residents. Many of those using the Javits Center and Aqueduct work in New York City and many Nassau and Suffolk residents are key to the city’s comeback. Fighting over doses isn’t helpful.

The state should move quickly to add additional state-run mass vaccination sites in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. SUNY Old Westbury, Farmingdale State College and EPCAL in Calverton are among the good choices, but there are others.

As much as possible, federal and state officials must increase dose allocations to Nassau and Suffolk for county-run efforts, and, as that happens, county officials must be ready to open new sites or expand existing ones. If there aren’t enough vaccinators from the medical reserve corps or local partnerships, county officials should work with the state to utilize the National Guard. There are plenty of nursing and medical students, or retired nurses and doctors, who could help.

Ramping up the shots at Belmont Park, which Northwell Health is running, from about 500 shots per day to 3,000 would help. Meanwhile, pop-up locations should continue, especially to meet the needs of various racial and ethnic groups who have been disproportionately affected. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine — the third to receive emergency use authorization — is important to the mix, too, and will especially aid in vaccinating the homebound and others who can’t easily get shots twice.

The websites to book appointments have to be more functional. Suffolk County’s lists its vaccine sites, who qualifies, and links to appointments, but often link to a page that says "No Appointments Available." Nassau County, however, has only a preregistration option — and that’s limited to only the exact amount of doses the county knows it will have in a given week. Nassau should allow its site to book for all county locations and more clearly promote and link to the other options available, like pharmacies, hospitals, and bigger venues such as Belmont.

And surely there are some talented and civic-minded Long Islanders with programming and developer skills to create sites similar to New York City’s TurboVax or NYC Vaccine List, which cull available appointments and update instantly.

There’s more the state can do, too, like loosening restrictions on how doses are used and ending the specific percentage requirements of how the counties must allocate their doses by category. Right now, the counties can’t easily open one site to multiple eligibility categories such as seniors and those with underlying conditions. In Suffolk, that means eligible workers can only go to a site in Selden, while those with comorbidities can only go to Brentwood. State officials say they’ll consider relaxing the rules as doses increase.

And as possible, state and federal officials should tell the counties how many doses they’ll be getting further in advance. That would allow for more planning and more appointments to open. City and state sites are booking a month or more in advance; Nassau and Suffolk should be able to do that, too.

While the news is good, there’s room for caution. Even as the state’s lifting of closures and capacity limits continues, it must be slow and methodical. Long Islanders, vaccinated or not, must continue to wear masks, distance and be careful.

For those who are vaccinated, some normalcy awaits. And for everyone who isn’t vaccinated yet, your turn is coming. When it comes, take it.

— The editorial board

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