Paul Hartshorne, of Niskayuna, sat patiently with his two granddaughters as their timer set to 15 minutes ticked down to zero: Hartshorne just received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“People just have to be patient,” said Hartshorne as he sat through a short observation period that follows the vaccination shots. “It’s nice there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to get back to some normalcy.”
Hartshorne joined dozens of other recently-vaccinated people in the sprawling event space inside Rivers Casino, which hosted the county’s largest vaccination site to date on Sunday.
“Poppy, we’re done,” said one of Hartshorne’s granddaughters.
After asking how he felt, Anita Brudos — a volunteer EMT from Rotterdam helping to staff the vaccination site — sent Hartshorne on his way, along with a reminder he would soon have to return for his second shot.
“We’ll see you in three weeks,” Brudos said.
Brudos, who works with the Plotterkill volunteer fire department, also used the “light at the end of the tunnel” analogy as she described how it felt to watch so many people receive their vaccine after a year spent in the midst of a pandemic. The light is getting closer and closer, even if a true return to normal is still a long way off.
“It’s like you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “It’s still small but you can see it.”
Schenectady County officials said just over 1,000 people would be vaccinated at the site Sunday, the county’s largest vaccination tally at a single site to date. The vaccination site was focused primarily on county residents 65 and older, also serving some people with comorbidities.
The county also hosted a vaccine pod for local educators on Saturday, providing shots to about 300 teachers, and another pod for around 500 people with comorbidities is scheduled for Monday.
Keith Brown, Schenectady County interim public health director, said Sunday’s vaccination event marked a turning points of sorts, hopefully moving toward broader mass vaccination efforts.
“With the federal ramp up in manufacturing, we are starting to see that influx of doses down to the county level,” Brown said Sunday. “This feels like the beginning of the mass vaccination effort.”
If the vaccine supply continues to improve and make its way to the county, Brown said he hopes the county will soon be hosting large vaccine sites multiple days of the week. Vaccination sites around the state also continued to ramp up in recent days, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a press call on Sunday said more mass vaccination sites would open and hours at existing sites would be extended around the state in the coming days.
But challenges reaching different communities persist and Brown said distributing vaccines to harder-to-reach areas of the county will be a high priority in the coming weeks.
Standing off to the side of the waiting room, Brown noted the evident lack of diversity among the people who had just received the vaccine — hardly a person of color could be seen in the room.
“We all have eyes, look around,” he said. “We have work to do to bring the vaccine to where people live, because not everyone can get here.”
Around 50 county health workers and volunteers staffed the vaccine site. People who registered for an appointment ahead of time lined up outside the event space Sunday morning. Health workers at about a dozen tables administered the Pfizer vaccine and signed people up for the second appointment before they spent their 15 minutes in the observation room.
“I know I can’t see anyone’s smiling face with the mask, but everyone seems to be relieved to be here,” said Schenectady County legislator Sara Mae Pratt, who observed the county effort.
Karl Waitner, vice president of operations at Rivers Casino, went through the line to get his vaccine. Waitner said he felt slightly conflicted, knowing how many other people want the vaccine, but ultimately decided to get vaccinated because he interacts with employees and the public on a regular basis. As he waited for his 15 minutes to run up, Waitner said it made sense for the casino to offer up use of its event space for the county-run vaccine site.
“They’ve got the doses and we’ve got the space, so it makes sense to partner together,” Waitner said.