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Vaccine site opens at Belmont Park amid high demand

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One day after County Legislator Carrié Solages publicly called for a vaccination distribution center in the 3rd Legislative District, which includes Elmont and Lawrence, on Jan. 5, Northwell Health opened a vaccination site at Belmont Park as a public-private partnership with the state.

New York re-ceives the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines from the federal government and distributes them to counties and hospitals, which request a certain number of doses from the state based on the community’s demand each week. All doses must be administered to eligible residents within a week after they are received, according to state guidelines, and facilities must notify the state Department of Health if they are not on pace to administer them all.

The vaccines are allocated based on the recommendations of the state’s Vaccine Distribution and Implementation Task Force, which comprises experts in public health, data and other relevant fields, and by the Vaccine Equity Task Force, which, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release, seeks to “break down barriers to vaccination and ensure there is equitable distribution across the state.”

With that in mind, Matthew Harris, Northwell Health’s medical director for regional pods, said that health system officials are trying to set up distribution sites in areas that have been disproportionately af-fected by the virus.

Studies show that majority-minority communities like Elmont have had higher rates of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths than predominantly white communities since the pandemic began last March, and in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-Americans are 1.4 times more likely to get Covid than their white counterparts, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized for the virus and 2.8 percent more likely to die from it.

Residents of these communities tend to work in essential businesses. In Elmont, for example, more than 1,500 residents worked in health care support services in 2018, roughly 2,000 worked in sales and more than 1,200 worked in transportation services, according to the U.S. Census.

Now, however, anyone who is in direct contact with patients, is 65 or older, is a teacher, first responder or works in the transit industry or at a grocery store, can make an appointment to receive the vaccine at Belmont Park, Hewlett, Lake Success and Syosset, or at the county-run sites at Nassau Community College or the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury.

When patients arrive at these sites, Harris said, medical staff confirm their identities as well as their ages or occupations. They take patients’ temperatures and ensure that they have not had Covid-19 in the past 90 days. Staff members also screen patients for a history of allergic reactions, and those who have had reactions must be observed for a half-hour after a nurse administers the vaccine. Those who do not have a history of allergic reactions are observed for 15 minutes.

When patients leave, Harris said, medical staff tell them when they are due for their second dose — no sooner than 21 days after the first dose for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days for the Moderna vaccine, with a four-day grace period.

The supply of the vaccines is low, however, and thousands of New Yorkers have had trouble signing up for appointments on the state’s website. The federal government has only provided the state with around 250,000 vaccines per week, and there are over 7 million eligible residents, according to a message on the state Covid website. As a result, Harris said, the number of sites that have vaccines varies, and, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, people need to keep refreshing their browsers to be able to sign up and fill out a form to prove they are eligible for an inoculation.

“People are calling everywhere,” Solages said of the process, adding that several of his constituents have found it easier to get an appointment in Queens. “It’s a free-for-all.”

Dawn LoCascio-Riggio, a 73-year-old from Franklin Square, said she had been trying to set up a vaccine appointment all day on Jan. 15, but kept receiving an error message that, due to the high volume of requests, the site was temporarily unavailable.

At first, she thought the problem was that she was using her iPad and iPhone to sign up, LoCascio-Riggio said, but she continued to have the problem when she switched to her Mac computer. “It’s so frustrating,” she said. “You finally get a location site to open, find a date, they ask you to pick or verify a listed time, you do that, and you wait, then you get kicked off.”

She said she understood that there’s a high demand for the vaccine, but suggested that those who manage to select a location, date and time — a process that already takes hours — should be “locked in” to continue the registration process.

Harris encouraged people “not to be discouraged,” calling widespread vaccination “one of the ways we’re going to make a dent in this.”

Northwell hopes to vaccinate about 1,900 people per week, he said, or 400 per day, and Nassau officials reported that 50,000 doses had been administered countywide as of Jan. 14, with the two Nassau County sites each seeing an average of 400 to 500 patients a day.

The Belmont Park vaccination site is open based on supply.