Dr. Kisa King, Department of Emergency Medicine resident, gets the...

Dr. Kisa King, Department of Emergency Medicine resident, gets the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Stony Brook University Health Science Center, on Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Stony Brook Medicine/John Griffin

This week, we’ve seen horror and hope as thousands of people die each day from COVID-19 while thousands receive the first doses of a vaccine against the virus.

The initial rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech drug, combined with the likelihood that a second vaccine, from Moderna, is likely to be approved this week, is a huge victory for science and for a better future.

So far, the vaccine distribution has been limited to hospitals. But we’ve been able to watch as front line workers, like ICU nurse Sandra Lindsay of Port Washington, have received a shot in their arms, and become role models for the rest of us.

But that’s the easy part. Hospitals can store and distribute the Pfizer vaccine, and doctors, nurses and other health care workers take the vaccine because they tend not to doubt the science. One health care worker’s allergic reaction Tuesday isn’t cause for alarm and it shouldn’t stop thousands more from getting the shot.

We’re all waiting, however, for what comes next. When will the public be able to receive its first doses of the vaccine? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, says it could happen as soon as late March. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday that those in the "priority" category, who have existing health conditions, could start being vaccinated by late January.

That means federal and state officials face an enormous task between now and then. The ability to distribute vaccines to millions of people, the vast amount of data that must be collected and analyzed, the complexity of keeping track of which vaccine is provided where, and who has received which dose, and the need to make sure everyone has access are all tremendous logistical challenges. The state’s regional vaccination hub plan is a good start, but by the time a wide swath of Long Islanders’ turns come, concerns must be addressed and we need to know what to expect.

It will be critical for the nation, and for New York, to make sure everyone who can take the vaccine, and wants to take it, can get it as soon as possible. That means avoiding shortages, lengthy lines, or any difficulty in finding a spot to get vaccinated once someone decides to do so. It means providing equal access to communities of color and underserved areas. It means offering vaccines at various locations and times, and making sure Cuomo’s pledge that the vaccine be free to all is followed.

Meanwhile, the public awareness campaign must ramp up. The scenes of doctors and nurses taking the vaccine should reassure us as to its safety and importance, for ourselves, our families and our economic future. Legitimate questions about side effects, or the vaccine’s impact on teens, pregnant women and others, must be answered, so that New Yorkers have no reason to fear when it’s our turn.

The horror of COVID-19 isn’t behind us yet, but hope is here.

— The editorial board


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