QUEENS — An intensive care nurse at Northwell Health was the first New Yorker, and one of the first people in the United States, to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning.
Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse, received the vaccine just before 9:30 a.m. at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, which was one of the downstate hospitals most overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients last spring.
“This facility was right at the center,” Northwell Health President and CEO Dr. Michael Dowling said before the injection was administered Monday.
About 100,000 COVID-19 patients have been treated at Northwell Health’s system of New York City hospitals and medical centers, with more than 3,500 virus patients in Northwell at the peak of the initial outbreak in April.
“Thank you, doctor — thank you for everything you’ve done for all New Yorkers through this pandemic,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said to Dowling on a video call. “It was a modern-day battlefield and that’s why the word ‘heroes’ is so appropriate for what you did. You put fear aside and you step up every day.”
Medical staff could be heard applauding after Lindsay received the vaccine.
“She has seen a lot,” Dowling said of Lindsay’s experience fighting COVID-19 over the past nine months.
More than 10,000 vaccinations were administered in the state throughout its first day of inoculations.
Dowling reminded New Yorkers while the vaccine’s arrival is cause to celebrate and a special day, the pandemic is not over. Vaccine distribution is expected to take several months.
“You have to continue to comply with safety standards,” he said, adding people must wear face masks and continue to remain socially distanced, or 6 feet apart, from others.
After getting the injection, Lindsay said she felt well and that the vaccine was the beginning of the end of a painful time in history.
“I’d like to thank all the frontline workers, all my colleagues through this pandemic all over the world,” she said. “I’ve been hopeful, today, relieved. I want to instill public confidence the vaccine is safe.”
The vaccine’s approval and development were based on science, similar to coronavirus regulations, Lindsay said.
“I trust science,” she added. “I don’t trust if I contract COVID how it will affect me or how it will affect others.”
The state’s Clinical Advisory Task Force, which includes scientists and health professionals from across the nation, approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before the U.S. Food & Drug Administration completed its approval and recommendation Friday.
“We trust science here in the state of New York — we’ve been following the science all along, and I hope this gives you a sense of security and safety and a little more confidence doing your job,” Cuomo said to Lindsay after she received the vaccine.
Of health care workers, the governor added, “We know you and thousands of others every day risk your lives for the rest of us. The vaccine only works if the American people take it. New Yorkers and Americans should do their part.
“When we say the word ‘hero,’ we don’t mean that lightly — we mean that deeply and sincerely.”
Shipments of New York drugmaker Pfizer’s vaccine started arriving in the state Sunday. The state is expected to receive 85,000, or half, of an initial shipment of 170,000 doses of the vaccine in the coming days. The next half of the shipment will arrive in another 21 days, or when the first patients who received an injection can get their second required dose.
Officials are transporting the vaccine across the state today by plane, train and automobile, Cuomo said.
“We’re getting it deployed and we’re getting it deployed quickly,” the governor said, adding, “This is the beginning of the last chapter of the book.”
Additional vaccine shipments are expected on a rolling basis in the coming weeks. The immunization will be prioritized for the state’s 210,000 nursing home workers and about 90,000 high-risk health care workers of the state’s 700,000, or those who directly work with COVID-infected patients.
About 225,000 health care workers treat positive cases, including emergency room and intensive care staff.
The state is prioritizing the vaccine based on federal guidance, which designated nursing home staff and residents and high-risk hospital and health care workers as the first priority to receive the coronavirus vaccine, followed by essential workers and high-risk members of the public.
“We will beat this,” Dowling said of COVID-19. “We will win.”
High-risk hospital workers include emergency room and intensive care unit staff directly working with positive virus patients.
New York will receive about 346,000 dosages from Moderna starting the week of Dec. 21 and 170,000 from Pfizer for a total of 516,000 doses to inoculate New Yorkers by the end of the month at 90 distribution centers statewide.
The federal government distributes the vaccine to states based on population. New York’s first shipment is allocated based on the state’s number of health care workers and nursing home residents.
Last week, Coronavirus Task Force officials announced the Capital Region will receive 7,850 doses of the first vaccine shipment, with 6,400 doses in Central New York, 11,150 in the Finger Lakes, 14,500 in Western New York and 3,700 doses to the North Country.
New York City will receive 72,000 dosages of the initial batch, and 26,500 doses will be sent to Long Island.
State officials allocate shipments to regions based on an area’s amount of health care workers and nursing home residents and staff.
Health experts project between 75% and 85% of the population in a community must be vaccinated for the immunization to be effective. Several recent national polls show at least half, if not more, of Americans will not take a coronavirus vaccine, citing skepticism about safety.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which President Donald Trump oversees, and President-elect Joe Biden’s advisers both recommend the COVID-19 vaccine and its safety for all Americans. Their agreement shows the vaccine is a public health and not a political issue, Cuomo said.
“Some people don’t trust the federal government, why? Politics,” he said. “Politics is everywhere, and there’s no politics on this issue. Trump and Biden agree on vaccine usage, so hopefully we’re getting to a point in this country where the politics will stop being the enemy of public health.”
The state plans an aggressive public outreach and education program to reach minority and low-income neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
New York officials are working to expedite vaccine administration to all residents, but estimate six to nine months before the general public will be vaccinated.
“We have to educate the public with extensive outreach to all communities,” Cuomo said during a COVID-19 briefing in the state Capitol on Monday afternoon. “It’s a logistical operation like we’ve never seen before, which we are already working on.
“Making government work getting it out is key,” he added. “New York came out of the blocks very quickly and very aggressively. The vaccine only works if we take it.”
Last week, Cuomo and 110 legislative leaders and advocates sent a letter to U.S. Human Health & Services Secretary Alex Azar urging federal officials to include a plan to equitably distribute the vaccine in Black, brown and poor communities hit the hardest by COVID-19.
“If the Trump administration doesn’t make the changes necessary, I believe it is illegal and we’ll pursue that course,” Cuomo said on the subject Friday. “We don’t want to get off to a bad start and it shouldn’t be President-elect Joe Biden to correct a mistake so early.
“We’ll do it right and focus on the disparities that we learned from the COVID situation and the inequities that existed in the first place that manifested through COVID.”