At Peconic Recreation Center, a day long in the making as 1,000 doses of vaccine administered

For the hundreds of people who lined up at the Peconic Recreation Center Thursday morning to receive their first COVID-19 vaccination, the day was a miracle long in the making.

In fact, “miracle” was a word used by several people who heard about Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital doing a one-day, pop-up vaccination center in the town-owned site and were jubilant when they got an appointment.

“This is a miracle,” said one woman, who declined to give her name but said she was “well over” 65 and had been frustrated with the inability to make an appointment for weeks. As she walked back to her car after receiving the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, she said, “I saw in the paper just this morning they were doing this and I was so grateful. I’ve called all over the place trying to get an appointment.

“CVS, Walgreens, the hospitals – always nothing,” she added. “It feels so good right now.”

Inside the rec center, dozens of people sat socially-distanced waiting for nursing staff to administer the vaccines. Others lined up outside waiting to enter. In the parking lot, town police and others directed cars to parking places. Throughout, the atmosphere was almost jubilant.

Inside, seated in fold-up chairs, Carolyn and Fred Lubanski of Cutchogue were among those waiting. “We’ve both been trying for months,” Mr. Lubanski said. “I can’t say what a huge relief this is. It’s been a real struggle to find a place to go, to get an appointment. And we’ve tried all over.”

“Thank God for this,” said Ms. Lubanski. “It’s a miracle.”

Helping people navigate the lines, Denis Noncarrow, Southold’s government liason officer, also used the word “miracle” to describe the day. “We have taken so many calls from people who couldn’t get appointments or who didn’t have computers and we wanted to help in any way we could,” he said. “Today, it’s happening.”

He said 1,000 doses would be administered by 5 p.m., with appointments made so the same group could come back in three weeks for the second vaccine. “Today, finally, the dam broke,” he said.

This day was made possible because of “phone call after phone call, conference call after conference call” by town Supervisor Scott Russell, who as the vaccines rolled out was eager to get a site in the town to make it easier for residents to get the shot.

“You run around and talk to anyone who would listen, then talk really loud to anyone who wouldn’t,” he said. “The advocacy and commitment that ELIH demonstrates to this community cannot be overstated. They made this happen. Karen McLaughlin and her staff, Denis Noncarrow and my staff were pleased to team up with them to make it all possible.”

Inside talking to people waiting for the vaccines, Ms. McLaughlin, the town’s director of Human Resources, said she and her staff have helped upwards of 400 senior citizens get appointments, filling out forms for them and going online.

The post-vaccine observation area. (Credit: Steve Wick)

“We didn’t want anyone who didn’t have a computer or just don’t have the technology skills to miss out on this,” she said. “We told people, ‘We will help you book an appointment. My staff came in Wednesday at five-thirty in the morning and spent the whole day making appointments for people. It was wonderful.”

Signs of vaccine progress happened in Greenport, too.  

On Wednesday, Northwell Health ran a one-day, pop-up vaccine center at the elementary school at St. Agnes R.C. Church. The purpose of the pop-up was to vaccinate Black and Latino residents, 65 and older or in groups such as restaurant workers designated to be able to get the vaccine or others with comorbitities. 

Sister Margaret Smyth, executive director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, and her staff knocked on doors, made phone calls, visited restaurants, delis and other sites to encourage people to come for the 250 doses that were allotted.

“We wanted to make sure we used those 250 and made the most of it,” she said. “The goal was an underserved community. We spent hours tracking people down – in restaurants, hotels, at their homes, at McDonald’s. We called churches, CAST in Greenport, everywhere. We got there at 9 a.m. and left around 5. It was a wonderful day. My sense was most of the people who came in were from Greenport.”

One of those who received his vaccine this week was Irving Pitman, who with the help of Ms. McLaughlin received his first shot at Eastern Long Island Hospital. Mr. Pitman, of Southold, is 103 year old. He was born in 1917, the year before the Spanish Flu struck America. 

“I don’t have a memory of it, but I know it was very bad,” he said.

Told he made history by living through two pandemics, he said, “Yes, that’s pretty unusual. I am doing pretty well, considering.”