‘I Want to Stay Alive’: Residents Arrive in Droves to Get COVID Vaccine at County Center

By Kristen McNerney
Westchester County Center
The County Center in White Plains opened on Jan. 13 as the areas only state-run COVID-19 vaccine distribution site in Westchester. Appointments are booked every day through the springtime, with eligible individuals scrambling to register online.

For Myron Wisotsky, an 81-year-old retired teacher from Chappaqua, the decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the Westchester County Center was a no-brainer.

“I want to stay alive,” he said.

After hearing positive feedback about the vaccine from those who had received the first of the two-dose shot, Wisotsky made an appointment at the County Center in White Plains once he became eligible. Currently, health care workers, police, firefighters, public safety workers, educators, transit personnel and people 65 and up can receive the vaccine.

But the White Plains facility, which had been converted into an auxiliary hospital to help handle a potential overload of COVID-19 patients last spring during the pandemic’s initial wave, is now serving as the only state-run mass vaccine distribution site in Westchester.

With the National Guard and county police providing security and instruction outside the building and even more personnel inside the facility directing patients on what to do and where to go, Wisotksy said his experience was personal and “ramped to perfection.”

“The doctors are fabulous,” he said, giving a shout-out to Dr. Augustine Moscatello, who helped administer his shot.

And while Wisotksy said it was interesting to be part of a mass operation, he advised others who may feel skepticism or concern about receiving the vaccine to not be afraid.

Since the doors opened on Jan. 13, eligible individuals have been coming out in droves to get immunized, with appointments booked through spring. As of Sunday, County Executive George Latimer said the facility had inoculated 18,584 people. 

As a Byram Hills High School teacher who struggles with asthma, Barbara O’Connell said she was eager to receive the first dose of the vaccine and felt at ease and a bit more protected walking out of her appointment. She added that her experience was organized and informational.

“They take the time with every patient,” O’Connell said.

While many are excited and ready to get vaccinated, some cited a level of urgency and desperation due to the impact and proximity the virus has had on their personal lives.

After losing people he knew to the virus last year, Port Chester resident Nate Casterella didn’t hesitate to get vaccinated.

“Why not?” said Casterella, a retired county Department of Public Works employee, when asked about his willingness to get immunized.

For Rockland County resident Virginia Fitzpatrick, who works as a substitute elementary school teacher in the East Ramapo School District, watching her husband’s bout with COVID-19 provided her with a level of apprehension. She showed up days ahead of her appointment to see if she could get seen earlier.

Her husband, an internal medicine doctor at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, experienced some of the vaccine’s side effects, such as a fever and body aches, after receiving both doses. But that didn’t stop Fitzpatrick, especially working as an educator with young children.

“We’re doing the best we can as teachers,” she said, remarking that young elementary students have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

About seven million New Yorkers are currently eligible to receive the vaccine, but a supply shortage from the federal government has hampered efforts to inoculate people more quickly. Appointments are required before arriving to the County Center or the Department of Health or local pharmacy administering the vaccine.

Currently, those 65 and up can receive the shot at pharmacies receiving allocations from the state. For all appointments at any location, proof of appointment, identification and eligibility is required upon arrival. The County Center is dispensing vaccines by appointment only from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

(On Sunday, the county announced it had canceled all vaccine appointments scheduled for Monday and Tuesday because of the forecasted snowstorm.)

As of Sunday, the state has received 1,554,450 first doses and administered 88 percent, or 1,361,212, of those. Seventy-three percent of first and second doses have been administered.

“I’m pleased that President Biden has put forth a plan to fix the mess left by the previous administration, including increasing our vaccine supply by 16 percent in the short term and ramping up production substantially to ensure we have the supply we need for the coming months,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last Friday. “It will still take months to vaccinate the entire eligible population but with new leadership in Washington, I’m confident we’re headed in the right direction.”

Click HERE to see if you’re eligible to make an appointment. 

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