New York’s vaccine rollout grew even more chaotic Thursday as hundreds of desperate residents lined up for hours and traffic was jammed for eight blocks outside a vaccination site in New York City after false rumors spread on social media that ‘spare’ doses were being given away.
Reports on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp that more than 400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were available to anyone aged over 18 at the Brooklyn Army Terminal sent New Yorkers into a frenzy Thursday night.
New York City officials tried to put the confusion to bed, tweeting that this was ‘misinformation’ and sending in staff and cops to disperse the crowds.
The chaotic scenes come amid a vaccine rollout system that has been plagued by challenges from the get-go.
Less than 4 percent of the state’s population have so far been vaccinated, according to data from Bloomberg.
Now, more than one month on from the day the first American – a New Yorker – received the shot on December 14, pressure is building on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ramp up the rollout as cases, deaths and hospitalizations soar.
In other states, such as Washington DC, people have managed to get their hands on the vaccine by waiting outside pharmacies at closing time for leftover doses that would otherwise be thrown out.
New York’s vaccine rollout grew even more chaotic Thursday as hundreds of desperate residents lined up for hours and traffic was jammed for eight blocks after false rumors spread on social media that ‘spare’ doses were being given away
Footage circulated on social media shows huge lines of people snaking along the sidewalk outside the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, New York City
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have pushed the blame for the slow rollout onto the federal government, pointing out that the Trump administration is currently sending just 300,000 doses each week to the state where 7 million are currently eligible.
At the current rate of distribution, Cuomo said it will take six months for the eligible group – including healthcare workers, people aged 65 and over and the immunocompromised – to get an appointment and de Blasio warned the Big Apple will run out of doses as soon as next week.
Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital on Thursday was forced to turn away New Yorkers because it didn’t have enough doses to go around – despite them having appointments.
But while Cuomo and de Blasio are hitting out at the federal government for a lack of supply, neither the state nor the city is getting the supply it currently has into the arms of residents.
The state has received almost 1.9 million doses from the federal government to date, but just 767,814 doses or 41 percent of available shots have been administered.
In New York City, the figures are even worse with just 38.2 percent or 303,671 shots administered out of 794,650 currently available.
New York Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat, told DailyMail.com Thursday the state’s vaccination program is a ‘complete mess’ and warned that his constituents are growing ‘livid’ with Cuomo over the holdup.
With no end in sight for eligible residents – let alone New Yorkers many months away from eligibility for the vaccine – reports that there were doses going spare Thursday triggered a mad rush to the vaccination site in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Thursday night.
Reports on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp that more than 400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were available to anyone aged over 18 at the Brooklyn Army Terminal sent New Yorkers into a frenzy Thursday night
Cars were backed up bumper to bumper in both directions for several blocks in the area around the vaccination site
Who can get vaccinated under the current Phase 1B?
- Individuals 65 and older
- Immunocompromised people
- First responders
- Public safety officers
- Teachers and other school staff
- In-person college instructors
- Childcare workers
- Grocery store workers
- Transit workers
- Individuals living and working in homeless shelters
- Corrections officers
‘We need to give out 410+ doses in next 4 hours at Brooklyn Army Terminal (by 7pm) , taking anyone in community age 18+, walk-ins, or earlier than scheduled,’ one of the messages on social media read.
Around 500 New Yorkers flocked to the vaccination park to try to get their hands on the surplus doses.
Footage circulated on social media by Stephen Lurie shows huge lines of people snaking along the sidewalk.
Meanwhile cars were backed up bumper to bumper in both directions for several blocks.
One person in the line told the New York Post soon after 6 pm that she had been waiting in line since 4:37pm.
Alexandra Frankel, 27, said she was getting mixed messages from staff at the center and law enforcement drafted in to get people to move on.
‘Someone having to do with the site, she came and said it was very reasonable that we were going to get our shots,’ she said.
Cops turned up and ‘said everyone needs to leave’, she said. She stayed and said she was one of 10 people let in through a gate by a security guard before the cops made them leave.
‘It’s frustrating because I was waiting online for two hours and I don’t even know now if this is legit,’ she said.
Security guards and police officers told the line to go home but many stayed put.
Footage online shows a security guard reassuring people that the vaccines were being given out to eligible people with appointments only as he urged people ‘please go home’.
‘We need to give out 410+ doses in next 4 hours at Brooklyn Army Terminal (by 7pm) , taking anyone in community age 18+, walk-ins, or earlier than scheduled,’ one of the messages on social media read
New York City officials tried to put the confusion to bed, tweeting that this was ‘misinformation’ and sending in staff and cops to disperse the crowds
New York City hospital forced to turn away patients as vaccine doses run out
A New York City hospital said Thursday it had been forced to turn away patients after it ran out of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital canceled vaccination appointments for eligible New Yorkers from Friday through to Tuesday – despite them already having appointments.
‘Unfortunately, due to sudden changes in vaccine supply, we have been forced to cancel our existing public vaccination appointments from Friday, Jan. 15, through Tuesday, Jan. 19,’ said hospital spokeswoman Lucia Lee.
‘We will inform our patients when more vaccine supplies become available and reopen vaccination appointments for eligible patients.
‘For anyone with appointments scheduled after Tuesday, we will provide updates as soon as we know more.’
A source at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx told New York Daily News appointments had also been canceled this week.
Some pharmacies, which were added as vaccination sites this week, are yet to receive any doses at all.
Fairview Pharmacy & Homecare Supply in Port Jefferson Station said desperate New Yorkers were calling the pharmacy for appointments after it was added to the state’s website for them to have to turn them away as it has nothing to give.
‘It brought my business to its knees for probably three days,’ said owner Michael Nastro.
‘The whole thing was just rolled out unbelievably bad,’ Nastro said.
‘It was a disaster, an absolute disaster.’
De Blasio’s office quickly dismissed the rumors, telling New Yorkers it was ‘misinformation’ and insisting ‘there is NOT available vaccine for people without appointments.’
‘There is NOT available vaccine for people without appointments. This was misinformation and the notification did not come from the NYC gov,’ Press Secretary Bill Neidhardt tweeted around 5:30pm.
‘We are sending people to Brooklyn Army Terminal to ask people in line to return home if they don’t have appointments.’
He added: ‘Unfortunately, the friend on FB sharing rumors about vaccine doses without appointments is not correct.’
Neidhardt reassured New Yorkers that the message circulating was a fake made to look official.
‘We’ve found a whatsapp message that did all it could to look official, stating a bunch of vax was about to go bad and it was first come first-serve at BAT. That seems to be the spark that led to the friend’s FB post that led to these tweets,’ he wrote.
His message sparked more confusion with people replying to him that a line had been set up outside the facility for walk-ins.
And online footage of a doctor at the facility addressing the crowd shows her saying the site had accepted some walk-ins as a one-off.
‘It was a single event. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer walk-ins anymore,’ she said.
Neidhardt later admitted that sites do have plans for what to do with extra doses that ‘every now and then’ are available.
‘All sites must have plans for expiring/extra doses (from those nice extra-full vials) but that doesn’t seem to be what happened here. The original (not 100% sure on that yet) whatsapp message indicated 400 doses,’ he tweeted.
‘Standard operating procedure at a site. You want to keep the line of people with appointments moving smoothly.
‘And every now and then there are vials with an extra dose or someone doesn’t show up to their appointment so sites are ready to form lines for if that happens.’
DailyMail.com has contacted de Blasio’s office to clarify whether some non-eligible people did or did not manage to get walk-in appointments.
Claims of doses going to spare is not unheard of with non-eligible residents in Washington DC this week lining up at pharmacies and getting their hands on doses that would otherwise have been tossed.
Similarly, in Los Angeles, health officials announced Thursday that health providers should not throw away unused doses if people miss appointments. Instead, exceptions could be made in this instance and doses given to people who don’t currently meet the criteria.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must be stored in extremely cold temperatures and be administered shortly after they thaw.
They cannot be refrozen and they spoil after being out the fridge for 12 hours.
Less than 4 percent of New York’s population have so far been vaccinated, according to data from Bloomberg
Each Pfizer vaccine vial is designed to hold five doses, but many contain six, and Moderna vials are designed to hold 10 but many contain 11, meaning there are likely to be spare vials each day.
If appointments are missed this would also create a surplus supply.
‘The fact that there’s some doses left at the end of the day is the nature of the beast,’ Saad Omer, a vaccinologist and the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told the Atlantic.
‘It’s obviously not ideal to have that kind of a situation, where you have high-risk groups and they’re not receiving it.
‘One thing I hope people realize is that the staff there are trying to do their best.’
At present, New York has not revealed what it does with these spare doses or whether they are thrown out.
DailyMail.com has reached out to both de Blasio’s and Cuomo’s offices for information on what happens to spare doses and how many doses are currently going to waste.
Cuomo has warned hospitals and vaccination sites that they will be fined and lose their license if they administer vaccines to people not eligible in the current phase.
Last week, medical providers said they had been forced to throw out vaccine doses because of the limited scope of eligible people at the time and the threat of such penalties.
The state entered phase 1B of the rollout Monday which includes residents over the age of 75, teachers, transit workers and police, in addition to healthcare workers who were covered in Phase 1A.
The new phase also broadened the types of healthcare workers that can receive the vaccine to include anyone who interacts with the public, such as licensed practical nurses, pharmacists, dentists and podiatrists.
Cuomo had not planned to include those aged 75 and older in the phase, previously insisting the elderly come after healthcare workers, before bowing to pressure and adding them to the priority list.
Cuomo has hit out at the federal government for a lack of doses and warned that eligible individuals could be waiting six months to be vaccinated given the current rate of supply
People get the vaccine at Manhattan’s Javits Center which recently opened as a COVID-19 vaccination site on January 13
On Tuesday, the CDC then recommended expanding eligibility to people aged 65 and over, as well as people who are immunocompromised – a recommendation Cuomo took on.
Cuomo said the expansion means seven million New Yorkers are now eligible for the vaccine but the state is still only receiving 300,000 doses each week.
The governor blasted the federal government’s allocation of the vaccine, saying that with the expanded eligibility, people can now expect to wait a staggering six months for a shot.
‘At our current rate of supply, it will take close to six months to vaccinate everyone who’s currently eligible,’ Cuomo said Tuesday.
‘Is that helpful? I don’t think so. I don’t think this creates national confidence. I think it creates national frustration.’
Speaking at his daily press briefing, de Blasio said Wednesday he has ‘no patience’ for the federal government and the vaccine manufacturers for the slow rollout of shots and demanded the Trump administration releases the second doses currently being held back from states.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing second doses held in reserve.
But sources told the Washington Post Friday these reserves have already been depleted with doses already being taken directly off the manufacturing line.
This is how the test positivity rate across the state of New York varies across different regions of the state
Washington DC residents line up outside supermarket pharmacies from 4am and wait for up to 9 HOURS to see ‘if they get lucky’
Dozens of people are forming long lines from 4am by supermarket pharmacies in Washington D.C. to receive leftover doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before it spoils, despite not yet being eligible.
Pharmacies in D.C. are following a recent mandate issued by Capitol officials that recommends no vaccine dose should go to waste, even if people fail to show up for their appointments.
As the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines must both be stored in extreme cold, administered shortly after they thaw, and cannot be refrozen, some D.C. supermarket pharmacies are asking those who happen to be nearby at closing time if they would like a leftover dose rather than being forced to throw it out.
Yet as stories spread on social media of people finding themselves in the right place at the right time to receive the leftover dose, others made plans to ensure they were near one of the pharmacies at closing time with hopes that they could be called on.
It has led to large lines forming at the pharmacies in Safeway and Giant stores in D.C. with some people waiting up to nine hours to ensure their spot in the queue and even forming their own waiting system.
As the lines of hopefuls have grown, endangering both themselves and store staff by crowding out corners of the store and making it more difficult to social distance, it has led to criticism from experts that a better system has not been established to ensure no vaccine goes to waste.
According to WJLA, the station received three calls from different pharmacy workers last week complaining about the line of people hoping to snag the extra doses.
One pharmacist told the station she was close to tears because of the unexpected extra workload and had at times been preventing from filling out her normal prescriptions.
Pictures of the lines have shown people crowding up the area around the pharmacy by early afternoon.
One image WJLA acquired from a Safeway in the D.C. area showed a long standby line, yet only one vaccine dose was leftover by closing time, forcing the others to begin their vaccine vigil again the following day.
‘I think a lot of the time that we spent waiting here for three-and-a-half hours was just anticipation and a little bit of anxiety,’ the 33-year-old woman who received the extra vaccine told the station.
‘And just remembering to stay out of the hair of the pharmacist just because they do look like they’re running around.’
Some residents extra eager to get the vaccine but not yet eligible have returned on multiple occasions but are thwarted by the early risers who are staking out their spots at the front of the line from 4am.
In a Giant supermarket in the Shaw neighborhood, non-employees have established a system where they give a numbered ticket to waiting newcomers.
‘Yesterday was a little bit of a disaster,’ one woman told The Atlantic on Sunday. ‘So that’s why we started doing the informal deli-number system—to try to create some order.’
On the same day in this Giants, Samir Balile, who is in charge of clinical programs at all 153 Giant pharmacies in the Mid-Atlantic, told the Atlantic hat he was forced to intervene and sent many people home.
‘Please don’t even come back,’ Balile said. ‘It’s too dangerous.’
And the lines have only grown as other residents share their lucky stories on social media.
One story on Twitter told how a friend had received a vaccine after happening to be in a Safeway when the announcement went out.
Government contractor Rob Towner, 36, also shared a video to Twitter of him receiving the vaccine after arriving to a Safeway in D.C. at around 2pm and waiting until closing.
‘There were stories about how in Israel, that if there were leftover vaccines, that technicians … would grab an Uber driver or a food delivery person.’ He told DCist/WAMU.
‘Then I began to see in Washington, D.C., to my surprise that there were Giant and Safeway locations where the pharmacists were effectively doing the same thing.’
According to Giant supermarkets, its five pharmacies in D.C. are first administering excess doses to their staff, before offering it to people who look over 65 and then those over 18 if needed.
Those who receive the first dose in this manner will also be scheduled for an appointment to get the second.
‘The DC Department of Health has made it clear to Giant that if doses of the Moderna vaccine will expire, they should be administered to anyone willing to take it,’ the company said in a statement.
‘The Moderna vaccine is viable for six hours after the first dose of the 10-dose vial is given.
‘The Moderna vaccine is valuable and lifesaving, and we are happy to not waste it by giving doses to our associates and customers should a healthcare worker not show up for their appointment.’
Biden announced Thursday in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package plans to tackle the nation’s ‘dismal failure’ in vaccine rollout by allocating $160 billion to a national vaccination program.
He vowed to get 100 million Americans vaccinated in the first 100 days of his administration.
Dr Fauci, the nation’s top doctor, told NBC’s Today Show on Friday that this goal is ‘quite feasible’.
‘We’ve discussed it with the Biden team, and we think it’s quite feasible that we can do that. Right now, even now, we’ve gone from half a million a day to 750,000 a day,’ he said.
‘I believe strongly that it’s doable – and if we do it, stay on target to get the overwhelming majority of the country vaccinated.’
But while the two New York Democrats Cuomo and de Blasio push the blame onto the Trump administration, frustrated residents on the ground are pointing to critical issues on a state level.
New York Assemblyman Kim, also a Democrat told DailyMail.com Thursday the state had a vaccination plan and protocols in place for when the need arose but had bypassed them to centralize the rollout in an effort to ‘make private hospitals look good’.
He said his constituents – particularly the elderly who have isolated for the best part of a year – are growing ‘livid’ with Cuomo and the governor is quickly ‘losing the trust of people on the ground’.
Kim, who represents the 40th District of New York, which includes portions of Whitestone, Flushing, College Point, and Murray Hill in Queens, said the state is now passing the blame onto the federal government because ‘things aren’t going their way’.
‘Back with the testing even the governor said the buck lies with him. He said that, but it seems like when things aren’t going their way they’re punting the blame on the city and the federal government,’ he said.
‘And I think the public especially now they know there is a potential cure for them to go back to normality – especially seniors who have been isolating – are so livid and angry that there is this potential cure but because of a lack of efficiency and administrative planning it is not happening.’
The lawmaker acknowledged that there ‘isn’t an abundance of supply’ from the federal government but said the lack of efficiency in the rollout is a ‘complete mess’.
‘We’re at a point where we don’t even know how many vaccines are being wasted – no one is keeping track,’ he said.
Kim pointed to several problems: a lack of forward planning and a move to centralize the vaccination rollout.
‘The conversations happening now in terms of vaccine planning should have taken place months ago even before they had the vaccine as it was going to happen sooner rather than later so why has it taken so long?’ he asked.
He explained that there the state has a standard vaccination plan and protocols for distributing vaccines.
This is ‘a local driven plan’ leaving the distribution to local healthcare professionals with the state’s role just being to track and monitor it.
But ‘the state bypassed this protocol and centralized the operation,’ he said.
‘And when I ask people on the ground – the doctors and medical professionals – everyone is saying they made the call to do this to make private hospitals look good,’ he said.
‘The people making the decisions are about controlling their image and politics and they should really pass [responsibility] to medical professionals and scientists who will make much better decisions.’
Cuomo this week appeared to backtrack on the state’s centralized plan announcing that around 500 pharmacies would begin offering the shots, and that another 700 had agreed to also join up.
Kim said that the booking systems are missing off some local pharmacies that now have doses so residents don’t even know they are available there.
People are ‘losing trust in the government,’ he said.
His comments come after New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer hit out at the city’s cumbersome online appointment system at the weekend.
Stringer highlighted glaring issues in the city’s process to sign up for a vaccine appointment in a Twitter thread late Sunday.
Stringer said when he checked the sign-up website, which can only be accessed after creating an account on a separate site, there were over 200 slots available for January 12 at one of the sites.
He pinned the large number of vacancies on both the ‘bewildering’ complexity of the sign-up process – which includes a 51-question gauntlet rife with technical issues – and on city officials’ failure to mobilize people to seek appointments.
‘The @NYCHealthy site for signing up for a COVID vaccination is complex, burdensome, and buggy,’ Stringer tweeted.
‘It will present an obstacle for too many people — particularly seniors — trying to sign up. This is a major problem.’
Stringer pointed out that the system is especially challenging given the fact those currently eligible are elderly workers who are typically less tech-savvy.
The city responded by creating an option for people to call 311 for an appointment but this system was also racked with flaws as people were on hold for almost half an hour on the line.
New vaccination sites have been springing up across the city and the state to try to increase the rollout on the ground.
Cuomo announced the opening of a new vaccination site at the Fort Washington Armory in Washington Heights Thursday as the state tries to ramp up the rollout of the shots it does have.
On Saturday, NYC Health and Hospitals Corona in Queens will shift to a 24/7 operation and both the Mets and Yankees are turning their stadiums into vaccination sites.
Delays in vaccine rollout could cost lives with cases, deaths and hospitalizations rising and a growing number of the new more infectious COVID-19 strain being recorded in the state.
On Thursday, 8,823 people were hospitalized with the virus. Of these, 1,536 were in the ICU and 956 were intubated.
New York officials announced another 202 people died and 13,661 tested positive, with the statewide positivity rate now at 6.42 percent.
Just 32 percent of hospital beds are still free statewide with the Mohawk Valley region having just 19 percent remaining.
Other states are also facing challenges with the vaccine rollout.
West Virginia is performing strongest with 78.6 percent of available doses given to residents while just 4.8 percent of doses have been given in the Marshall Islands.
Panic has also set in in other states besides New York with eligible Californians waiting in line for hours at Disneyland Wednesday as Orange County expanded eligibility to those aged 65 and over and the site opened with a capacity to vaccinate 7,000 a day.
Those in line had appointments but people in their 60s and older still sat for two hours in their cars waiting for a dose.
Over in Rhode Island, health officials learned a special link given to employers for their eligible workers to register for vaccinations had been shared with non-eligible people who were using it to jump the line over more vulnerable groups.
On average, just 38.8 percent of doses distributed to states have been administered.
A total of 11.9 million people have so far been vaccinated nationwide, accounting for just 3.6 percent of all Americans.