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'It was really an incredible day'

Lynbrook resident recalls preparing New York's first Covid-19 vaccine

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Lynbrook resident Anthony Longo, the pharmacy director for Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, left, received the shipment of the state’s first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 14.
Lynbrook resident Anthony Longo, the pharmacy director for Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, left, received the shipment of the state’s first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 14.
Courtesy Anthony Longo

Dec. 14, pharmacist Anthony Longo said, was the most important day of his career, as he prepared the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in New York state, and perhaps the country.

 “To know that we were receiving this vaccine was incredible in and of itself,” Longo said, “because it gave hope for what the future was going to be.”  

Longo, 51, is the pharmacy director for Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, a part of the Northwell Health system. He oversees the operations and clinical department for the in-patient pharmacy at the hospital, which provides medication and clinical support. The Lynbrook resident said he was unsure how the hospital got the state’s first dose of the vaccine, but he described it as a “surreal experience.”

Longo was notified the night of Dec. 13 that the hospital would receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the next day, and, he said, he didn’t know what to expect. The package arrived at the hospital from Kennedy Airport, guided by state troopers and a security team. Once there, Longo placed the vaccine in an ultra-low-temperature freezer that was cooled to –18 degrees Celsius (–0.4 Fahrenheit) and began preparing to administer it.

 “There was a lot of pressure,” he recounted. “There were cameras, lights and video, all of those things, as I was making that dose, knowing that it was so critical. It was a pretty intense day, but it was one of the most important days of my career as well.”

To prepare the dose, Longo thawed the vaccine after removing the vile from the freezer, brought it to room temperature and mixed it with saline sodium chloride to ensure that it was sterile, with no contamination.

The process went quickly, Longo said, noting that he received the delivery at 7 a.m., and it was ready at about 8:30. An hour later, the vaccine was injected into the arm of critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay as news cameras rolled and flashed.  

“There’s nothing better in my career that I’ve been a part of,” he said.

Longo has lived in Lynbrook since 2003 with his wife, Danielle; they have two children, Anthony and Gianna. He earned his bachelor’s from St. John’s University in Queens, his doctorate of pharmacy at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio and his medical degree online from American Public University.

Longo said the vaccine is safe, and virtually no one at the hospital experienced any unusual symptoms besides arm soreness after the first dose. “Everybody has handled it very, very well,” he said. “It’s probably one of the safest vaccines that I’ve seen utilized, especially because of its purity.”

After preparing the initial dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Longo became an overnight sensation, with many news outlets documenting his contribution. His friend Michael Franklin said he was beaming when he saw Longo on TV.

“I’m proud of him for what he’s done to help us get back to normal and get our lives back,” Franklin said.

After inoculations were open to medical personnel and first responders as part of Phase 1a, starting on Monday the vaccine was available to those eligible in Phase 1b, including teachers, health care providers and those over 65.

Longo said he hoped the most important day in his career would be a first step toward a return to normalcy.

“With the release of the vaccine, we are now able to stop further progression of the virus, and knowing that we had that in our hands and it was going to be rolling out in a manner of minutes was just a remarkable feeling,” he said. “It was very emotional for a lot of us who saw that delivery of it and preparation, and seeing it get administered. It was really an incredible day.”