Nassau County hospital officials and elected leaders are moving fast to prepare for distribution of the first doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after federal emergency-use authorization for it was approved last Friday. New York is slated to receive 170,000 doses in the first batch.
The first dose in New York state — and perhaps the nation — was given at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, on the Nassau-Queens border, on Monday morning. It went to a 52-year-old critical-care nurse, Sandra Lindsay, of Port Washington.
The pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have each developed vaccines that are more than 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections, though the latter two have yet to receive federal approval for use outside of a clinical trial.
Experts say that a vaccine or vaccines might be widely available to the public by April or May. In the meantime, the first doses will go to essential workers, in particular hospital employees, long-term care facility workers and emergency medical technicians, as well as nursing home residents, as per State Health Department protocols.
Dr. Dave Neubert, the Town of Hempstead’s emergency medical director and an attending emergecy physician at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, said the town would use Facebook Live town halls to promote the coronavirus vaccine to residents so they would be ready and willing to take it when it becomes available. Neubert said the sessions would help explain how the vaccine is administered and assure people that they will not become ill when they take it.
None of the vaccines use the live virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccines, Neubert explained, give “your body the blueprint for making the antibodies without you having to be exposed to the infection itself.”
Mercy Medical Center, in Rockville Centre, is expecting the Pfizer vaccine to become available quickly for workers there. Dr. Jason Golbin, senior vice president and chief quality officer for Catholic Health Services, said, “Catholic Health employees will be selected to receive the vaccine based on risk of exposure to Covid-19. Top priority will be given to employees and physicians in our ICUs, emergency departments and dedicated Covid units, home care and hospice, as well as long-term care facility workers who regularly interact with residents.”
In a Truth in Medicine poll conducted by Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside in October, more than half of respondents said they would not take a Covid-19 vaccine or were unsure if they would, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of MSSN’s Department of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases. Recent national polls have indicated that the number willing to take it may be climbing, and is now closer to 60 percent.
The vaccine, Glatt said, “is something that will be very important in stemming the terrible spread of this epidemic, and hopefully lead to the end of this epidemic.”
David Nemiroff, president and CEO of Long Island Federally Qualified Health Centers, said there were already many people who were skeptical about vaccines before the pandemic, so it may be difficult to persuade everyone that a Covid-19 vaccine is safe, but he believes public support will grow. Nemiroff said that his group of family health centers, with locations in Elmont, Freeport, Hempstead, Oceanside, Roosevelt and Westbury, has asked community leaders, including legislators and church pastors, to encourage people to get the vaccine.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, “and people should feel pretty optimistic about that.”
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must be stored at temperatures well below freezing, while the AstraZeneca vaccine must be chilled. Northwell Health has obtained medical-grade freezers to hold the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, according to Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease physician at the health care system.
Meanwhile, a smaller organization, like LIFQHC, will potentially have to partner with a hospital like Nassau University Medical Center, in East Meadow, for vaccine storage.
Jill Nossa and Mike Smollins contributed to this story.