Once an emergency field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients during the first wave of the pandemic last March and April, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the Far West Side of Manhattan now serves as a specialized COVID-19 vaccine hub.
The 1.6-million-square-foot building is usually reserved for conventions and specialized events such as the New York International Auto Show and Comic Con. However, last year it was transformed into a field hospital to care for those suffering from the COVID-19 virus, alleviating medical facilities from the unmanageable number of patients admitted.
As of Jan. 13, it has undergone yet another change, this time helping stop the spread of the novel coronavirus via administering both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
To kick-off the facility’s transition from a grim milestone to celebratory occasion, DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker, Secretary of State Rosanna Rosado and Governor’s Director of Emergency Management Michael Kopy held a conference to welcome the landmark day in the fight against an invisible enemy, opening one of the largest state vaccination sites.
“The last time I was here at this facility I was here with Governor Cuomo during a very different time. It was in the spring during some of the darkest days in the history of this city and state. At that time we were here to set this facility as a medical safety valve. We set it up for healthcare networks that were consumed by COVID. While the fight is not over, we are here today with a much more optimistic outlook. We are here with a vaccine,” said Zucker.
Flanked by posters stating “vaccine New York,” the governor’s appointed team shared their pride and enthusiasm for being afforded the ability to begin mass inoculations, estimating that there are about 19.5 million New Yorkers who need to be vaccinated.
However, currently there are not enough supplies to serve every New Yorker in a timely manner. The state only receives 300,000 vaccines per week. If the federal government does not increase the amount of vaccine doses allotted, Zucker reported, it will take up to six months to administer vaccinations.
He also surmised that in order to beat the virus, about 70% to 90% of New Yorkers must be given the shot.
“We are also going to need the same kind of commitment from the federal government because as we expand the population of those who are eligible, and as we increase distribution points, we are going to need more vaccines. We consider this a wartime mobilization that lives are on the line every minute of every day. A wartime operation is 24/7. It is an operation that enlists all available allies to get the job done faster by the dedicated professionals that will staff this facility here at the Javits Center,” Zucker said.
Rosado, named the Co-Chair of the NYS Vaccine Equity Task Force, shared that since the Jacob Javits Center is such a massive facility, it has the capability to vaccinate up to 10,000 people within a 12-hour period. While the 24/7 state-run site is fully structured and staffed with personnel that can accommodate close to 25,000 within a single day, it is presently not provided with enough vaccine vials to meet that bench mark need.
“I am tasked with leading the state’s efforts to reduce barriers to the vaccine and ensure an equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s no secret that underserved communities were and continue to be hardest hit during the pandemic, but thanks to the efforts of the Governor and the State’s Vaccine Equity Task Force, we are addressing the issue head on by operationalizing state run vaccination sites to make sure resources are in place facilitate public vaccinations are fast and equitable,” Rosado said.
The gigantic show floor is now inhabited by the national guard who aid with crowd control as individuals are shown to a large array of tables where medical personnel are waiting with the life-saving needles. After the injection process is completed, they are sat in a waiting area for 15-20 minutes to ensure no adverse reactions occur.
“Under the Governor’s direction, we have transformed the convention center in what will be the largest mass vaccination site possibly in the country,” said the Director of Emergency Management Michael Kopy, adding, “We have the ability to ramp that up to 25,000 people in a 24-hour period with the resources that we have here in place now. That said we can’t do that without vaccines coming to New York from Washington. That is the key component.”