“What a big day. What a home run for the people of this borough ... this community and communities surrounding here was the epicenter of the epicenter of this crisis ... It is critical that we have facilities like this in our borough,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said at Citi Field Feb. 10, the “opening day” of its use as a mega vaccination site.
The “mega” site, though not yet quite living up to its name, was intended to run as a 24/7 inoculation station, but will only be running for limited hours and days for its first operating week.
The site was originally scheduled to dole out 200 doses on the first day, but Mayor de Blasio said it was able to administer 250. An additional 200 shots a day will be distributed through Saturday. The city-run site is expected to begin operating 24/7 beginning Feb. 17, at which time 4,000 people can get vaccinated per week.
De Blasio said that the megasite has the capacity to administer as many as 5,000 doses a day, a threshold that cannot be reached until manufacturing is ramped up.
“We have to change the approach,” de Blasio said following his tour of the premises. “We have to stop this game of not knowing how much supply we’re going to have. We need direct allotment of supply that we can depend on ... We’re not getting the supply on a reliable basis.”
With Mr. and Mrs. Met on his left and team owner Steven Cohen on his right, the mayor said Citi Field was the perfect space to administer vaccines around the clock. The Mets stadium was originally scheduled to open as a 24/7 site Jan. 25, but was delayed due to lack of doses.
“We knew we wanted this to be a super site. We knew it would be the right thing to do to get people in Queens who have been hit so hard by this crisis,” said de Blasio. “We couldn’t do it because we don’t control our own supply. We need to control our own supply. We need a supply we can depend on.”
In the hours between the site’s opening and the mayor’s arrival to the stadium, dozens of eligible Queens residents were turned away because they hadn’t scheduled an appointment.
Taxi driver Victor Barahona was under the impression the shots would be reserved for eligible parties whether they had made an appointment or not, similar to the process for city-run Covid-19 testing sites. He brought proof of employment and residence, but was turned from the gates by police officers for not having an appointment.
“They said it’s full,” Barahona said. “I tried to make an appointment, but it’s hard.”
Another man, who did not provide his name, said he had tried to make an appointment online, but struggled to understand why none were available.
“It asked for the ZIP code and when I put in my ZIP code, it said there are no appointments in this location,” he said. Chalking it up to a computer error, he showed up to what he expected to be a completely operational megasite for eligible residents.
The line for those who did have appointments was short and moved quickly, which angered many of those who were turned away — some refused to believe that there were not enough shots for the crowd.
“If you look at the line for people who have an appointment, there is only one or two persons waiting to be vaccinated,” said Mr. Hojas. “There are hundreds of us who don’t have an appointment and we can’t get a vaccine.”
The struggle to make appointments, especially for seniors and non-English speakers, has been a pervasive issue since eligibility was expanded beyond healthcare workers. Many don’t find the site user friendly while others claim the wait times on vaccine hotlines is unbearably lengthy, but New York City residents cannot get vaccinated without an appointment.
Several of those who were turned away waited another hour to air their grievances at the mayor for failing to communicate the process. De Blasio responded that appointments had always been required.
“You can’t just come here and walk in,” de Blasio said. “You have to have an appointment in advance. We don’t want lines of people. That’s not safe.”
Luckily those who showed up to Citi Field Wednesday morning without a time slot were helped by representatives from the Mayor’s Office to schedule one for the future. The mayor said that help should be available at other vaccination sites going forward.
A few freshly vaccinated residents shared their excitement as they excited the megasite.
“It feels great. It’s a great thing,” Carmen Ramos told reporters.
Another man simply displayed a thumbs-up as he headed out.