‘Such a morale booster’ as more than 600 vaccines administered at Peconic Landing ‘pod’

In 17 years at Peconic Landing, president and CEO Robert Syron described Thursday as his “best day ever” on the job.

That’s because the retirement community partnered with Stony Brook Medicine to administer approximately 650 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations to both residents and members of the greater community.

In an interview Thursday, Mr. Syron said Peconic Landing has been advocating to be a mass vaccination “pod” due to the density of residents across the North Fork who are ages 65 and over.

“When [the state] was putting pod sites together, they didn’t take into consideration the demographics out here and also didn’t take into consideration how hard it is for an 80-year-old to get in a car and go an hour and 20 minutes,” he said.

Last month, a team of East End lawmakers banded together to call for an equitable share of vaccines, adding that availability on the East End was “virtually nonexistent.”

In his regular updates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says supply remains the key issue in the vaccination effort. While more than 7 million New Yorkers are eligible to receive the vaccine, the state only receives approximately 300,000 [first] doses each week. In addition to those ages 65 and over, health care workers, first responders and public safety workers, teachers, public transit workers and grocery store workers are now eligible for vaccine appointments, as well as taxi drivers and restaurant workers, pending approval of local governments.

According to Mr. Syron, over 400 of the 650 vaccines administered Thursday were given to members of the Southold community who are age 65 and over.

“Our philosophy is to not only look out for our own people but look out for the greater community,” he said.

The complex’s community center was buzzing with excitement as those with appointments arrived to check in, cheering and high-fiving staff along the way.

“The emotions and enthusiasm run very high,” said Anne Walsh-Feeks, Stony Brook’s assistant vice president and chief operating officer for ambulatory operations, who was on hand to help oversee the distribution. “There are people that are a little bit nervous, then as they leave, they’ll wave and give a thumbs up.

“We’ve become a bunch of cheerleaders,” she said.

Among those waiting eagerly to receive the first dose was Peconic Landing resident Joanne Barrett. The 78-year-old lung cancer survivor proudly showed off her vaccination record card and said she was feeling lucky and excited.

“Today I saw people I hadn’t seen since [the pandemic] began,” Ms. Barrett said. “It was such a morale booster.”

Whereas the last 11 months have been filled with fear and uncertainty, Ms. Barrett said she now feels more confident — and thankful that she didn’t have to travel very far.

Last week, Ms. Barrett was frantically searching for vaccination sites, and though she lives independently and remains active, she wasn’t keen on driving more than an hour west to a vaccination site.

Peconic Landing resident Joanne Barrett received the first dose Thursday. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Ms. Barrett also said she was pleased that vaccines were made available to other community members. “We love to do what we can for the surrounding town, so this was just a win-win today,” she said. “To know that the end is in sight is a big help — but we can’t rest. The variants are coming, so we’ve still got to behave.”

By noon Thursday, over 300 people had flowed through the vaccination site, according to Greg Garrett, chief operating officer at Peconic Landing. “This has been one of the most amazing days in the last year,” he said. “And hopefully this is the beginning of the end.”

He said if the opportunity presents itself, Peconic Landing would be willing to host another vaccination “pod” in the future.

Ms. Walsh-Feeks said Stony Brook is continuing to look at opportunities to provide vaccines both to senior populations and communities of color. On Sunday, another 1,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be distributed in Commack.

“Our initial focus was in face-to-face health care but we’re going to go beyond that. That’s what today is about,” she said. “Looking at our older population and finding a way to make it accessible to them.”

Those vaccinated at Peconic Landing Thursday are expected to return in approximately three weeks for their second and final dose of the Pfizer vaccine.