NEW YORK — The first coronavirus vaccination in the United States took place on Monday morning in Queens, state officials said, signaling a turning point in the battle against a pandemic that has profoundly scarred New York, killing more than 35,000 people and severely weakening the economy.
Sandra Lindsay, a nurse and the director of patient services in the intensive care unit at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, received the shot — the first known clinically authorized inoculation outside of a vaccine trial — shortly after 9:20 a.m. during a news conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
That the vaccine was administered in Queens, one of the first areas in the country to feel the brunt of the virus, seemed a fitting coincidence. That the recipient was a nurse made for a powerful tribute to the front-line health care workers who have witnessed the virus’s deadly toll.
“I’ve been hopeful today,” said Lindsay, whose vaccination drew applause. “I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end in a very painful time in our history.”
The hastily arranged media event, held just a few hours after the vaccines landed in New York City at dawn, crystallized a new chapter in the country’s fight against a pandemic that has upended society. It was televised on CNN, and nearly half a million people streamed it on the governor’s website and social media platforms, according to his office.
The vaccine arrives at a time of urgency, with New York, once the epicenter of the pandemic, now confronting a worsening second wave after a relatively dormant period in the summer.
The state recorded an average of 10,048 cases per day last week, an increase of 72% from two weeks earlier. Patients are filling up hospital beds in numbers not seen since May.
Now, nearly 300 days after the state reported its first coronavirus case on March 1, health officials face another race against time to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from a now familiar foe. The distribution of a vaccine that has been fast-tracked in each stage of the process, from development to approval by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday night, figures to provide many logistical challenges.
“This vaccine is exciting because I believe this is the weapon that will end the war,” Cuomo said during the news conference. “We have planes, trains and automobiles moving this all over the state right now. We want to get it deployed, and we want to get it deployed quickly.”
The shipment Monday is part of the state’s initial allocation to vaccinate people deemed most essential or at-risk, a group that includes front-line health care workers, as well as staff members and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. About 10,000 vaccine doses were to be administered throughout the day in hospital systems across the state, Cuomo said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said five hospitals in the city received shipments Monday, and 39 additional hospitals were expected to receive doses in the next two days. The mayor said that watching Lindsay get the vaccine was “a beautiful moment.”
“I felt this welling up of hope,” said de Blasio, who was present as vaccinations occurred at an NYU Langone Health hospital in Manhattan on Monday afternoon. “This amazing sense of, ‘We are actually turning the corner.’”
State officials are anticipating enough doses from the drugmaker Pfizer to begin inoculating 170,000 people in the coming days. The process requires two doses for each person, administered a few weeks apart.
As soon as next week, the state is expecting 346,000 additional doses from drugmaker Moderna, which is still waiting for FDA approval for emergency use of its vaccine.
Those initial batches will begin to cover just over a quarter of the estimated 1.8 million people prioritized to receive the vaccine in the first phase of distribution in the state. Getting through those high-priority vaccinations will also take some time — state officials project to conclude the first phase sometime in January.
Health officials have said it will likely be months before the vaccine is made available to people who do not fall within a priority group.(BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.)While the vaccine’s arrival signals that the coronavirus could be brought under control, tens or hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers will likely become infected before the pandemic is over and a sense of normalcy returns.
One prediction model, made by researchers at Columbia University and followed closely by city health officials, suggests that between 10,000 and 30,000 new infections are occurring in the city each day, though only a fraction are detected through testing.
(END OPTIONAL TRIM.)New York officials expect to receive the Pfizer vaccine in three waves this week from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the drugmaker has its largest manufacturing site. Most of the shipments are anticipated to land in Albany, New York’s capital, and New York City, and they will go to about 90 sites, mostly hospitals, that have the proper cold storage. Some doses will be trucked into the state.
The doses sent to Long Island Jewish Medical Center arrived at Kennedy International Airport at 5:40 a.m. Monday and were trucked to Queens earlier than anticipated by state officials, who said they were tracking the 63-pound box of vials and dry ice through a UPS phone app.
Lindsay, who is Black, volunteered to be among the first New Yorkers to be vaccinated, saying that she wanted to encourage people of color and people who were skeptical of a vaccine to get a shot.
“Use me as an example, I would not steer the public wrong.” Lindsay, 52, said. I can say it is safe to take the vaccine. I have seen the alternative and I do not want it for you.”
The second phase of vaccinations will cover so-called essential workers, an expansive category of workers that has yet to be defined, but which may include police officers, firefighters, teachers, pharmacists, grocery store workers, public transit employees and others. This stage would also include individuals in the general population with comorbidities and underlying health conditions that especially put them at risk to contracting the virus.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has also spoken about prioritizing public housing residents — a group of more than 400,000 — as well as residents of 27 hard-hit neighborhoods.
Across the region, officials have begun preparation for the vaccine’s arrival.
In New Jersey, where nearly 18,000 deaths have been linked to the virus, the first doses of vaccine will be administered to nurses in Newark, the state’s hardest-hit city. Staff members from University Hospital, New Jersey’s only public hospital, will be first in line, beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday, state officials said.
Vaccinations will begin soon after at five additional hospitals with subzero freezers in Camden, Atlantic City, Hackensack, New Brunswick and Morristown, the officials said.(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)As of Friday evening, state officials were still scrambling to decipher the specifics of the vaccine’s much-anticipated arrival, as they waited for the federal government to grant the Pfizer vaccine, developed in conjunction with BioNTech, the necessary emergency use authorization. Approval came late that evening, setting off a chain of events that finally brought the vaccine to New York.
Even with so much uncertainty, Cuomo said the state had laid out the necessary groundwork — “the most aggressive distribution administration program,” he called it — to deliver the vaccines to hospitals and other sites. New York, like other states, also opted into a federal program that partnered with CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccines in nursing homes.
“The vaccine doesn’t work if it’s in the vial,” Cuomo said Monday. “New York state has been working very hard to deploy it.”
The governor, a third-term Democrat, also announced Friday that a state task force he convened, after concerns were raised that President Donald Trump was expediting the vaccine rollout for political purposes, had given the Pfizer vaccine its blessing. Some of Cuomo’s conservative critics had panned the task force as a political maneuver meant to undermine Trump.
Cuomo, however, insisted Friday that the state’s independent review would help build confidence among the public after surveys showing that many Americans did not trust the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’re going to need a public education campaign to battle skepticism,” he said. “We have to hit 75 to 85% of the population for the vaccine to be effective. We have 50% of the population saying they won’t take the vaccine.”