More Concrete Information on Vaccine Distribution Starts to Trickle Out as Local Seniors Express Anxiety: ‘If I Get COVID, I Will Die’

By Carol Tannenhauser

The anxiety of the moment—leaving politics aside—is about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. It is the topic on everyone’s mind, and it is generating more questions than answers.

“During the first wave, I used to feel comfort when Cuomo spoke every day and told us what was going on,” said 73-year-old, long-time Upper West Sider Lynne Ross. “I had a sense that he not only had a handle on it, but he was giving us truthful information. I don’t have that sense now.”

The lack of clear and consistent information about the rollout is adding to the anxiety, particularly among elders, an Upper West Side psychologist, who is 83, told us. “On one hand, we feel relieved, because we know the end is in sight,” said Dorothy Cantor, “but they keep moving the finish line! All this vagueness leaves people with a terrible sense of uncertainty, and that raises anxiety.”

The Upper West Side has one of the largest concentrations of people over 65 in the city, with about 37,000 as of 2015, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer. Elders are especially concerned with getting the vaccine for two essential reasons.

“If I get COVID, I will die, in all likelihood,” Cantor said. “I had a heart attack three years ago and that plus my age makes me extremely vulnerable. I don’t want to die! I’ve got a lot to do in life.”

“I want to see my children!” said Renay Roberts, 78, who lives in Lincoln Towers. “They’re out West and I haven’t see them in over a year. We are waiting patiently, and we think we know where we are in line, but we want to know when we will be contacted, where we will be going to receive the vaccine, and we’ve gotten nothing! We’ve been in the house for a long time, doing everything we’re supposed to, and we haven’t seen our families or friends. We’d just like some information.”

With tensions this high, conversations about the vaccine can venture into speculation — and possibly misinformation.

“A few of my friends in Fla had the vaccine,” Ellen Schwartz, 74, texted. “They say Trump is giving more to Fla supporters. I don’t believe it. I think NY just can’t get organized.”

What happened to New York exceptionalism? Who’s in charge? Why are we hearing that vaccines are sitting in hospital freezers, undistributed?

News has just begun trickling out in the past day or so, as it became clear that New York was distributing the vaccine at a glacial pace. Just on Tuesday, city officials said that people 75 and over are likely to get the vaccine in the next round, probably starting in February. And those 65 and above will get it a bit later — probably starting in March and April.

WSR contacted the NYC Department of Health, City Councilmembers Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, and Borough President Gale Brewer for more answers about how seniors will be notified, and when they can expect to get the shots. For instance — what if people don’t have a primary care doctor or use clinics or practices where they may see several health care professionals? What if they’re not comfortable navigating the Internet?

The DOH has yet to respond. Rosenthal provided a link regarding eligibility, and information about the projected timeline, put out on Monday by NYCDOH. Here again is the link.

Rosenthal also said that “The oldest seniors will hopefully start to receive vaccinations in February — younger seniors will hopefully be vaccinated in March/April.” Levine has not responded but he will hold a town hall on Thursday at 4:30 to talk about the rollout. You can sign up here. He put out a Q&A with information. Some of the key points are below. (To access the links in the document, click through to the original here.)

Stringer, who is running for mayor, has also released recommendations for a speedier rollout, which include creating a “standby list” of at-risk people who can be called if vaccine doses are left over during each phase.

Brewer responded with a lengthy email, acknowledging “the glacial pace of vaccine distribution” and offering what she has, namely, more links and a summary of everything [she] knows about the rollout, “particularly with regards to eligibility, notification, and distribution.”

The state has launched a new ‘Am I Eligible’ app to help New Yorkers determine their eligibility, connect them with administration centers, and schedule appointments. To access the app, as well as find the latest information concerning the vaccine and its administration, click here.

As of Monday, January 4, additional health care workers and other frontline staff are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Eligible individuals can schedule an appointment to get vaccinated by contacting their affiliate (health care) network or employer. Eligible individuals will have to fill out a screening form and attest to being in an eligible category with proof of employment. Seniors, including homebound seniors, are expected to be eligible for the vaccine in mid-January, in the next phase.

It’s important to remind your readers that if they’re not eligible for vaccination, they shouldn’t sign up for an appointment. We need everyone to wait until they are eligible. The City’s vaccine site, found here, will continue to update this information regularly, including updated eligibility information, and vaccine distribution locations.

In New York City, our office is told that there are 125 vaccination sites now, there should be 165 by end of week and more than 250 by end of month.  The goal is to have sites operating 24/7 but certainly lots more on weekends.

The eligibility categories and timeline is on both State and City web sites I linked to earlier – ultimately the decision about who is eligible when is a State decision.  The plan for seniors (particularly those who do not use the internet) is to use existing infrastructure to get the word out – senior centers, visiting nurse networks, etc.   Once they become eligible, community leaders, institutions, and elected officials are going to notify all and help them make appointments. Right now, everyone is doing appointment only — and the city tells us this seems the best way since then paperwork can be done in advance and will prevent long lines, which would be difficult for seniors. School nurses are scheduled for vaccination during phase 1a, which is the phase we are in right now.  This is all school nurses – public and private schools. Freelance (unaffiliated) health care workers (like doulas and family practitioners) are eligible starting today — they can go to DOHMH sites and there will be an additional five access points starting Wednesday.  This weekend, there will be “hubs” – they are city-run sites that will be doing large numbers of vaccinations.

WSR will keep you up-to-date as circumstances change. Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to call your primary care or other doctor and ask her or him your status. Some may even be administering the vaccine in their offices.

NEWS | 29 comments | permalink
    1. Lisa says:

      Please be patient.. updates and changes are the newest information doctors know. If that is unacceptable, then to me you are saying that you do not want updates .

    2. Flowery says:

      “Probably starting in February” is as anxiety-producing to people 75+ as silence. Where’s a concrete plan? Is it rational to ask elderly people to somehow get to a huge, enclosed vac site in the dead of winter with hundreds of others? As Bill Ackman said, “it’s a kind of genocide.”

      • Jay says:

        Relax.

        There are too many variables to give an exact date right now. Your hyperbole isn’t helpful to anyone.

        • Jen says:

          You are not helpful either with your “relax”. Apparently you are not in the same age group and can’t relate to their concerns.

          • Jay says:

            You don’t know anything about my age group, Jen.

            To equate what’s going on to genocide is rhetoric and ignorant. Everyone is going to get vaccinated and it will be soon. Now is not the time to freak out.

            • Chuck says:

              You’re right. We need to wait for more detailed information and it will be forthcoming. It is difficult to specify details when new vaccination centers are still being opened and staffed. None of us will miss our turn.

    3. Balebusta says:

      As a healthcare worker I am finally getting my first vaccine dose this week. The roll out and distribution has been abysmal at all levels — Federal, State & City. Even within some hospitals the efforts have not been well coordinated. I feel very sorry for the many people who need this vaccine, and wait in fear.

    4. ben says:

      I would be surprised if the city can get its act together in administering vaccines. Not even NYP/CUMC has a concrete plan beyond “we need to jab as many people as possible”. And that’s after knowing that the vaccine was coming for 3 months and having formed a distribution committee and held town hall meetings. Still, they send out emails that say “please don’t email us asking about when your turn is, just wait for it”.

    5. oldtimeUWSer says:

      They’ve been saying just a few weeks about this whole thing from the start. And remember that with the vax you have to get 2 doses, several weeks apart at the same place, and then it’s not effective for weeks after the second dose. So Cuomo rhetoric may make people feel good about themselves but no one really knows what’s going on and tack on a month or so to whatever they ‘promise’.

      • ben says:

        “then it’s not effective for weeks after the second dose”
        This is patently false. Stop talking nonsense if you have no clue what you are talking about. What’s the point of moderated comments if verifiably fake news is published.

        “The coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech provides strong protection against Covid-19 within about 10 days of the first dose, according to documents published on Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration before a meeting of its vaccine advisory group.”
        https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/08/health/covid-vaccine-pfizer.html

    6. young_man! says:

      My 75+ year old parents got the vaccine in Florida a few days ago along with many of their senior friends. They had to wait a few hours at the center but apparently was well organized.
      NY really needs to get its act together to protect our seniors.

    7. Newcavendish says:

      This is a step in the right direction, but why isn’t the state sending us emails telling us, for example: you’re 70, you can make an appointment at CVS for a covid shot starting X date? Why the mystery and confusion? It should be pretty straightforward. (Also, I hope we won’t have to wait in long lines, as the document above suggests: aside from the waste of time and annoyance, long lines for this would guarantee further spreading of the virus.

    8. Elizabeth Sachs says:

      I wonder how the age of 75 will be defined. Everybody born in 1946 or by specific DOB? It makes a difference to me. If by year, I’m “B”, if by specific DOB, not till summer….

    9. Eli says:

      The information on the City’s 311 site (https://portal.311.nyc.gov/article/?kanumber=KA-03360), is somewhat different from that on the Dept of Health site (linked to in the article). Another indication that this is a mess.

    10. JS says:

      Very helpful article. Thanks for the links Carol.

    11. UWS Craig says:

      Vaccinating tens of millions of people is pretty easy – we vaccinated 200 million Americans for flu last year. I got my vaccine just walking into Duane Reade and asking for one. There was no line and it was free.
      The difficulty with Covid vaccinations is the need to make sure vaccines aren’t given to the wrong sort of people. We need to stop non essential people from getting the vaccine – that makes the logistics very complex and will result in it taking at least a year so that this is done in the proper order. Should a grocery clerk be prioritized over a diabetic? I don’t know – this is very tricky – and the government will need to sort these sort of things out in a way that is just, fair and equitable. I trust Cuomo’s judgment.
      In the meantime, stay safe, do your shopping on Amazon and text people – don’t visit them. If you need to eat, do it outside and preferably alone. By 2022 most people will have their name called and we can start to do things like we used to.

    12. Joan Lurie says:

      What is wrong in the state of New York? Why are vaccines expiring by the thousands? Why are most states able to vaccinate those over 75 either now or in a week or so? We know that the Governor of Florida is already vaccinating people of our age and we have the additional burden of cold weather. What is the cause of the delay? There is available vaccine as Floridians of our age are getting it and in NY, it is rotting in hospitals because the bureaucrats won’t give it to older people who desperately need it.

      • Jay says:

        Vaccines are not expiring by the thousands.

        We’ve been dealing with COVID since March. I hope you haven’t forgotten what to do to keep yourself safe. If so, there’s lots of resources for you. Spreading misinformation isn’t helpful to yourself or anyone else.

    13. Richard says:

      I called Rosenthal’s office and got little satisfaction about getting the vaccine. I am glad to see other’s are aware of the risks that are presented to seniors by an incompetent City government. Don’t even mention the Federal and the State governments.

    14. JerryV says:

      When will people ever 65 get the vaccine? Based on my observations, it will be when they turn 75. If they don’t live that long, they will get a letter of apology instead.

    15. Joan Lurie says:

      What is wrong in the state of New York? Why are vaccines expiring and rotting by the thousands? Why are most states able to vaccinate those over 75 either now or in a week or so? We know that the Governor of Florida is already vaccinating people of our age and we have the additional burden of cold weather. What is the cause of the delay? Obviously there is available vaccine as Floridians of our age are getting it.

    16. Marcia says:

      The Atria facility on W. 86 St. is having CVS give the vaccine to its residents and workers on Jan. 11 but refuses to let rent-stabilized tenants who live in the building and also are in their ’80s with underlying conditions get the vaccine. This is discrimination.

      • Boris says:

        The Atria is a senior living facility whose residents are in the first phase of vaccine administration because of their higher frequency of interactions. All others in that building are not. It’s that simple.

        Calling it discrimination is hyperbole. There’s no excuse for not reading and understanding the guidelines at this point.

    17. Dianne Arisman says:

      Will West Side Rag publish names of pharmacies and
      hospitals on the Upper West Side approved to offer vaccines to people over 75 years?

      • Boris says:

        What do you think? It’s not like they have much else to write about that interests almost everyone.

    18. Jackie says:

      I’m 76, and glad that 1B will be included. I’m sure that we’ll have to keep checking back every day to figure out where these vaccines will be available and to make appointments for shots. The links in this article no longer work.

    19. SES says:

      The UWS is the center of many things. One is kvetching. I’m 77, almost 78, and, much as I’d love to get this vaccine as soon as possible, I’m perfectly willing to have those who must do things – go to work, etc. etc. – get ahead of me in line. I can keep myself safe much more easily than they can.