They’re off and running in the COVID-19 vaccination race at Queens’ Aqueduct Racetrack

Jeri Cavagnaro was excited to receive her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine since it brings her one step closer to seeing her 99-year-old mother.
Photo by Dean Moses

Instead of lines at the betting windows, Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens now has lines of people eager for a safe bet against infection with the COVID-19 vaccine.

The racetrack’s first floor now has a state-operated vaccine hub that opened to the public on Jan. 18, providing inoculations via appointment. The Aqueduct hub opened Monday even as New York City and state face imminent shortages of the vaccine.

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the city’s vaccine supply could be exhausted by this Friday without a sudden infusion in new vaccines from the federal government. Governor Andrew Cuomo says he is striving to ensure that the vaccines are widely and equally distributed among all communities regardless of race and income brackets, but that New York State only receives approximately 250,000 doses per week. 

Nevertheless, the Aqueduct hub is one prime location since city data shows that South Ozone Park and the Richmond Hill area are the third-highest locations for COVID positivity rates (the rates are just over 15% in this Southern Queens area alone). 

The Governor opened another state-run vaccination site at the Aqueduct Race Track, located on 110-00 Rockaway Boulevard in South Ozone Park. Photo by Dean Moses

Tuesday morning, the Mayor announced that today they received a small supply of 53,000 doses, leaving the city to distribute 116,000 for the week ahead. He surmised that by Thursday they will run out of vaccinations and Friday there will be absolutely nothing to give out, forcing vaccine hubs to cancel appointments for the remainder of the week.  

“We will not get on the current schedule resupplied again until next Tuesday, which means for many of our sites we couldn’t vaccinate again until the day after next Wednesday. This is crazy. This is not the way it should be. We have the ability to vaccinate a huge number of people. We need the vaccine to go with it,” de Blasio said.

The National Guard helps keep the facility secure. Photo by Dean Moses

Despite the precarious supply of the vaccines, dispersal methods have vastly increased with both city and state run locations opening every week. 

Whether patients are stepping off the A train platform or driving into the racetrack’s parking lot, it is hard to miss the splattering of posters pointing to the vaccine dispersal location at the Aqueduct. Drivers are directed to by members of the national guard to parking locations while those on foot can simply walk into the site.

All around the Aqueduct Racetrack there are signs guiding individuals to the vaccination site. Photo by Dean Moses

Inside, the gambler’s paradise has been transformed into a socially distant haven. Those recently vaccinated rest for 15-minutes where people once sat clutching their betting slips and excitedly cheering on their chosen horses.

Although no bets are currently being taken — the Aqueduct racing meeting is going on without spectators due to COVID-19 — many who visited this hub feel as though they struck big thanks to the easy process and lack of lines.

At the Aqueduct vaccination site, there is a large seating area for those to rest after they receive their inoculation. Photo by Dean Moses

“I would have traveled 40 miles to make an appointment,” Jeri Cavagnaro said, an elderly woman who was highly impressed with how seamless the whole visit went. Her next visit to the Aqueduct will be on February 9th for a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I wanted to come as soon as I could. I wanted to go visit my mom, she’s 99 and she got her vaccine already. I’m heading to North Carolina as soon as all of this clears, still with the mask and social distancing. You have to believe in science,” Cavagnaro added. 

With an abundance of patience, two computers, and a host of tenacity searching through the vaccination hub website, Cavagnaro and her husband scoured the web for about two hours before finally booking her appointment.

While the vaccine site has been a relatively easy experience to go through physically, the process of making an appointment was a headache for some. 

Francine Ricotta was determined to get her vaccine to protect herself and her family, so she was relentless in her appointment making attempts.

“It’s a very difficult thing going online and getting the appointment and finding this place,” Ricotta said.

Richard Hekimian was worried that upon finally reaching the Aqueduct Race Track, there would be a shortage of vaccines and he wouldn’t be able to receive his. This fear was dispelled when he arrived at the location and received his dose quickly and efficiently. 

Richard Hekimian was ready for his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Photo by Dean Moses

“It was a concern that when we got here there wouldn’t be any supply and we would be turned away, but as it turned out there was no problem,” Hekimian said. 

In the end for couples like Frank and Margaret Ferrara getting the vaccine was a no-brainer. They both felt great after receiving their first dose and say they can’t wait for the next one. 

“I just wanted to be safe and help stop the spread of the virus,” Frank Ferrara said, who felt slightly concerned about supply but his fears dissipated upon entering the vaccination site to see how fast and professionally run it was. “It was fantastic inside, quick and easy. We feel good and can’t wait for shot number two,” Margaret said.  

If you are interested in receiving the vaccine and would like to schedule an appointment for your first dose, you can call he New York State Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4VAX (1-833-697-4829) or download the app “Am I Eligible.” 

Members of the National Guard help guide individuals to their appointments. Photo by Dean Moses

More from around NYC