Home featured Vaccine Rollout Is Sluggish. Can These Pop-Up Inoculation Sites Help?

Vaccine Rollout Is Sluggish. Can These Pop-Up Inoculation Sites Help?

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Kelly Picciurro, 29, a physical therapist from the Upper East Side, had been checking New York City’s website for days to find out when she could get the coronavirus vaccine. Many health care workers in the first priority group, like Ms. Picciurro, had been anxiously waiting to hear when it would be their turn.

After finally being able to make an appointment online on Monday, Ms. Picciurro was one of the first people at a clinic in East Harlem on Tuesday morning, one of the city’s initial two pop-up vaccination sites that mark a more urgent stage of the inoculation campaign.

The effort to vaccinate millions of New Yorkers against the virus has been off to a sluggish start, alarming city and health officials at a time when infection numbers are surging and a more contagious variant has been detected in the state. To ramp up capacity, the city is planning to open more than a hundred of these new vaccination hubs.

Credit…Kelly Picciurro

By 9 a.m., a trickle of health care workers had arrived at the East Harlem site, by bike from a nearby neighborhood, by car from Long Island and by taxi, still in their scrubs. Walk-ins were turned away, including Eric Ettinger, 65, a receptionist at a doctor’s office, who biked over just before dawn, was first in line and waited for over an hour before being told an appointment was required.

The process, for those lucky enough to get an appointment, was simple, and the site not busy on its first day of vaccinations.

“I’ve gotten my fair share of Covid tests, and this was nothing compared to that process,” Ms. Picciurro said after getting her shot. “Having the vaccine gives me a little more peace of mind going to work, going on the train.”

The city’s first vaccine pop-up sites — the second, in Lower Manhattan, also opened Tuesday — will be among some 125 new locations for administering coronavirus vaccines that are scheduled to open by the end of January, doubling the current number, the city said. The goal is to accelerate the rate at which New Yorkers are getting vaccines.

As of Tuesday morning, only 118,000 people had been vaccinated in New York City, data showed, despite the city having received more than 480,000 doses. Almost no vaccinations took place on Christmas and New Year’s Day, and limited numbers have been inoculated on weekends. At that pace, it will take more than four years to reach everyone in the city, officials have said.

Only 690 people had received the necessary second dose of the vaccine as of Monday night.

The slow rollout, city and state officials said this week, has been caused in part by restrictive rules governing who can receive the first vaccinations, overwhelmed hospitals struggling with the logistics, and a worse-than-expected pace in nursing homes, which had vaccinated only 11,000 residents through a federally run program as of Monday, according to City Hall.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday criticized some hospitals for what he called a lack of urgency in getting staff members vaccinated and threatened $100,000 fines for those that do not distribute their vaccine allocations within a week.

“We want those vaccines in people’s arms,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding, “This is a very serious public health issue.”

But those problems are beginning to be addressed.

On Monday, the state gave the greenlight to a far larger group of health care workers and others in frontline positions for the vaccine, including public health workers, paramedics, dentists and phlebotomists. Now the challenge is for all of the newly qualified people — up to a million, the city said — to get an appointment.

The city started the process on Tuesday with the pop-up clinics, which initially are offering appointments only from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday this week. The appointments, which were made through a contractor called Affiliated Physicians, were filled within hours of their opening on Monday.

“PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE NO MORE AVAILABLE TIME SLOTS FOR COVID VACCINATION APPOINTMENTS AT THE POP UP CLINICS AT THIS TIME,” the website stated Monday night.

Dr. Michelle Macaraig, who is overseeing the operations at the East Harlem vaccination site, said she expected several hundred people to be vaccinated on Tuesday.

Dr. Macaraig said the site was reassessing its capacity for daily vaccinations after the staff realized on Tuesday that it can take in more people.

Still, those who want to get vaccinated will have to register online.

“We want to make sure they understand the eligibility criteria,” she said.

More appointments will be available on Wednesday, as the city’s public health system begins opening vaccine hubs for health care workers who do not work for a hospital. But the roll out will take time. The first three school-based vaccine centers will be open on Sunday, but so far just for one day. Additional public hospital sites are scheduled to open soon.

On Tuesday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was planning on opening five large vaccination sites in the coming weeks that would operate 24 hours a day, with the goal giving out of 100,000 doses per week.

Mark Levine, chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee, said the city needed to be vaccinating 400,000 people a week if it was going to get to herd immunity by midyear — far more than its current pace of 40,000.

“It’s a small step in the right direction,” Councilman Levine said of the new vaccine clinics. “We just have to be in more locations, with more staff, at more times and days.”

The opening of broad categories of health care workers for vaccination on Monday set off an urgent search among providers not affiliated with hospital systems to figure out where they could get vaccinated.

Pediatricians and other private doctors were among those confused about where to go. Bonnie Litvack, the president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said Monday that her office had “received several hundred emails and telephone calls from these physicians asking where they and their staff should go to be immunized.”

Many New Yorkers will end up getting vaccinated at the city’s public sites, Mr. Levine said. Urgent care and federally qualified health centers, along with hospitals, will also serve as distribution sites as the massive effort comes online.

Emily Long, 35, a physical therapist assistant from West Harlem, said there was a celebratory air inside the East Harlem clinic as she and others sat for 15 minutes after their vaccines to make sure they did not have an allergic reaction.

She took a selfie as she waited, wanting to project her confidence in the vaccine to others. “A big reason for me was to show friends and family that I believe in this vaccine,” she said.

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson and her husband, James, were eating breakfast early Tuesday morning in their home in Rockland County when they heard about a new pop-up vaccine site in the city.

Dr. Johnson, a physical therapist with her own private practice in New City, N.Y., where her husband is the office manager, said she checked online and was able to make an appointment in East Harlem. (During the day, as vaccinations went smoothly, the site opened up several more slots, according to officials.)

The two immediately made a “mad dash” down to Manhattan and got vaccinated, she said.

The sight of public clinics opening to vaccinate New Yorkers, instead of just offering coronavirus tests, came as a surprise to some residents, marking a huge shift in the city’s efforts and a change in a cityscape that has been marked for months by long, outdoor lines for testing.

Kevin Boyd, 54, a janitor at a hospital in Lower Manhattan, was returning home from his late-night shift when he passed the vaccine site in East Harlem, which was run out of the East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center. Mr. Boyd, who is diabetic and considers himself at higher risk, has been debating whether or not to get the vaccine, which he said was offered to him at his hospital. Mr. Boyd did not know a pop-up site would open near his home.

“I’m still waiting, I’m not rushing to get it,” he said. “But it’s good that it’s right up the block from me, because when I change my mind it’ll be right here.”

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