BY DEAN MOSES
The New York Mets’ home, Citi Field, opened up Wednesday, Feb. 10, as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site — but the grand opening wasn’t a home run for everyone.
This latest super center was set to distribute a limited amount of vaccination doses Wednesday morning. The schedule will run Mondays through Saturdays, each day allotting 200 appointments with 100 prioritized to the TLC and food service workers.
But that didn’t stop scores of people from showing up Wednesday morning, buoyed by some false hope about the site serving exclusively Queens residents; in fact, it is designed to serve Queens residents as well as essential workers citywide.
Amidst the line of people admitted to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, droves of individuals were turned away — many of them immigrants or seniors, or having pre-existing conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The refusals were emotional for many; some wept when they realized they wouldn’t get the vaccine at least on Wednesday. One woman, about 80 years of age could be seen arguing with NYPD officers outside the stadium’s gate brandishing medical records, begging to be let inside.
“It says for Queens residents. I am from Queens. I have cancer; I could die if you let me leave,” pleaded Elba Marchena.
Confusion continued throughout the morning as more people arrived, some grasping what they said were proof of appointments, only for them to also be denied entry after waiting on line. One visitor claimed to have been outside the coliseum since the early hours of the morning.
“I made an appointment but they can’t find me in the system. I am so frustrated,” Carmen Ramos said. “I’ve been standing on this line since 6:45 a.m., and they checked in the registry and I had a confirmation but I just can’t find it in my phone and now I did all of this for nothing? I’m a healthcare worker! This is so disorganized and I’m very upset right now,” she said storming away.
According to an NYPD source who spoke with officials on the inside of the stadium, the misinformation seemed to have spread due to language barriers and computer illiteracy.
Once hearing that the makeshift hub would be serving solely Queens residents, many mistakenly presumed they could simply arrive without first booking an appointment.
Moreover, those who exhibited what they believed to be appointment sheets had merely registered and had yet to be assigned a date to be inoculated.
New Yorkers can make a vaccine appointment at Citi Field through the city’s vaccine hub; individuals with pre-existing conditions who are under 65 can begin seeking out appointments on the vaccine hubs for the city and state on Feb. 14, with available times as early as Feb. 15 available.
Despite the emotional rollercoaster ride experienced by some, those who did receive the vaccine at Citi Field on Wednesday felt as elated as watching a Pete Alonso home run fly out of the Flushing ballpark.
Raisul Karim was the first man to receive the vaccine within the walls of Citi Field. He emerged, gesturing a peace sign and demonstrating a new sense of safety.
“I feel like I’m the first one and it’s like I’m safe. I’m serving on the front line, that’s why I feel like it’s a good time to take the shot,” Karim said.
Karim is a yellow taxicab driver and since he deals with different customers every day, including picking up those from hotels throughout the city, he feels better prepared to start returning to normal life.
“I am working at front desks at hotels with people leaving, so I feel like I am serving on the front line so it is a good time to take the vaccine,” Karim said.
Stanley Mathew was the second man to get inoculated at the famous Citi Field. He surfaced from the historic sports center talking on his cellphone, telling a loved one the good news. Although the process may have been difficult for some, for him it was quick and easy.
“I feel great! It was wonderful — I came in, I had the appointment. So the people who had appointments they took in right away, and they treated me well. It was 1, 2, 3, an easy process,” Mathew affirmed.
Among the throngs of people getting vaccinated and attempting to get vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio and fellow elected officials, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Council member Francisco Moya, state Senator Jessica Ramos and Mets owner and CEO Steve Cohen toured the vaccination site before holding a conference to commemorate the day in the shadow of the stadium itself.
“It is opening day at Citi Field. It will soon be opening day for baseball, but today it’s opening day for the people of Queens to get vaccinated,” de Blasio said during a press conference at Citi Field. “When vaccinations are here, people will come here. If you build it, they will come. We need to show people that vaccinations are what will make everyone safe,” he added.
According to the mayor, Citi Field is starting to distribute vaccines a few days a week, and then will be pushed to seven-day-a-week service. Once they are able to, Citi Field will be distributed vaccines 24/7.
“By next week, we will be able to do 4,000 doses at this site, but if we had enough vaccine supply we will be doing 5,000 vaccine doses a day here at Citi Field,” de Blasio said, estimating that they could potentially inoculate 35,000 people per week at the site.
While de Blasio says he can see the relief on the faces of those who were vaccinated, he acknowledged the anguish of those who came to Citi Field Wednesday for a vaccine, but were turned away. Still, he said, people need to follow the process to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There is no such thing as ‘walk up and get a vaccination’ anywhere because we do not want longlines anywhere,” he said in response to Schneps Media’s question about the rejected patients. “We do not want people congregating together. It’s really important that people make appointments. We’ve been saying that for weeks and weeks.”
The mayor blamed the lack of supplies as the reason for why it is so hard to make an appointment. He still encourages individuals to keep signing up because each week there are new shipments of vaccines.
As the 12th state with the largest population, de Blasio emphasizes that the federal government needs to let the state’s have control on how many vaccines are distributed. He blames the lack of supply as to the limited amount of people who are able to receive inoculations.
“We will have people out here to help sign people up. You can’t just come here and walk-in. You have to have an appointment in advance. We don’t want lines of people; that is not safe. If people come here, there will be navigators to help them sign up for an appointment,” de Blasio added.
Councilman Francisco Moya has been aiding two of the hardest hit districts in Queens, East Elmhurst and Corona by hosting bilingual, virtual town halls to provide information about the vaccination process and how to register.
“There needs to be a system in place where the ZIP codes that have had the highest rates of COVID, the highest rates of death, should be prioritized as they go or else we have people from all over coming, which we understand that, but we need to have a system that will literally prioritize the people in this community that were ravaged by COVID,” Moya said to Schneps Media. “So for me, it’s extremely important the community like Corona and East Elmhurst that have suffered from the pandemic don’t actually get left out of this process.”
Moya will be holding another virtual town hall with medical professionals on Thursday at 6:30pm, which will be streamed live on his Facebook page, facebook.com/FranciscoMoyaNY
Although an exact number couldn’t be determined, according to eyewitnesses inside and outside of the stadium, far more people were sent home without a vaccine then those who received it.
Eligible New Yorkers can make an appointment at nyc.gov/vaccinefinder or by calling 877-VAX-4NYC.
This story originally appeared on amny.com.