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Racing to get the vaccine

Getting a vaccine appointment is a challenge for some


When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency-use authorization for a vaccine that could prevent Covid-19 on Dec. 11, it created a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

But some eligible New Yorkers living on the North Shore have had difficulty making ap-pointments to be inoculated at local hospitals, pharmacies and state-run sites. The state re-ceives approximately 250,000 vaccines a week, and more than 7 million New Yorkers are now eligible for it.

“It’s been a big challenge,” said Glen Cove resident Howard Stillwagon, 72, a Vietnam veteran. “I tried to apply, and they said no because at that point they hadn’t gone down to [age] 65.”

After Jan. 12, when the state began offering vaccines to those 65 and older, Stillwagon tried again to make an appointment, only to be directed to a number of websites where he found no available appointments.

He spoke to his health care provider, to no avail. Then he tried the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport. “I was told they were just finishing their staff, the doctors, the nurses and the nursing homes out there,” Stillwagon said. “I said ‘OK, what’s going to happen with us veterans?’ They said they didn’t know yet, and there were talks of doing it in the parking lot with the mobile units.”

He even checked the state-run vaccine site at Jones Beach, only to find that appointments were booked up through April.

Stillwagon said he should be higher on the list, considering that he is a veteran with diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, among other health conditions. “It’s really dangerous if I get this virus,” he said. “My wife has really bad asthma. I’m the one that goes to the supermarket a few times a week to get supplies. That’s basically all I do.”

Another veteran, Glen Head resident Robert A. Taylor, 83, had a different experience, however. “The process was simple,” Taylor said, explaining that he went to the VA center in St. Albans, Queens, last Friday to receive his Phizer-BioNTech vaccine. “I was put into a little office with a nurse, and they had a syringe already in a plastic bag,” he recalled. “It was all very safe. They had us sit for 15 minutes, because they said you could possibly have a reaction.”

Taylor said he did not have one, and will return for his booster shot on Feb. 4. “I’m just grateful,” he said. “I served my country, and this is just what you have to do, and I’m very proud of it.”

Melissa Atkinson, a 75-year-old psychotherapist from Glen Cove, said that despite her age and the fact that she is an essential worker, she has been unable to make an appointment. “I’m frustrated and frazzled,” she said.

Glen Cove resident Eva Jones, a dialysis nurse who works in a Covid-19 unit at a location she did not disclose, said she got her first dose on Jan. 7. “It was easy,” she said. “I went to the ProHealth in Syosset. I had an appointment. I went in and a doctor administered it. I sat for 15 minutes to be observed, and that was it. I came home and I took Tylenol, and had no effects.”

Jones said she had to advocate for herself to get the vaccine, because at first she was considered to be a third-tier priority, and she could not get any information on when she would be eligible. “I couldn’t understand how a registered nurse treating Covid-positive cases could not be earlier than Tier 3,” she said. State Assemblyman Chuck Lavine’s office helped Jones get the information and guidance she needed to make an online appointment.

Lavine said his office has been trying its best to help eligible people get vaccines amid all the confusion about their distribution. “This all starts at the top,” he said, referring to the departing administration. “The chaos over the federal distribution of the vaccines was predictable.”