The first coronavirus vaccines arrived in New York last month and The Floating Hospital, among those healthcare organizations to receive an early supply, wasted no time getting to work. The clinic received the first shipment of vaccines on Dec. 21 and began administering that day to its staff who, as employees of a Federally Qualified Health Center, were approved by New York State for Phase 1a inoculations. All subsequent vaccinations follow the state-outlined phases as new eligibilities are released.
“We applied because we are a community health center and see it as our duty to provide this service to keep not only our staff, but patients and the community safe,” said Dr. Shani Andre, The Floating Hospital’s chief medical officer who is overseeing the program. The Floating Hospital has established itself as a Covid testing site, having administered nearly 6,000 tests in 2020.
The Floating Hospital qualified as a vaccine site after meeting the Centers for Disease Control standards and the additional requirements of New York State to be enrolled in the Vaccines For Children (VFC) program. To date, The Floating Hospital has received 500 first doses and 300 second doses of the Moderna vaccine. The shots are administered 28 days apart by Dr. Andre and Linda You, The Floating Hospital’s family nurse practitioner and clinical projects manager. Additional staff are being trained.
“I was so full of emotion after receiving the vaccine. There was an overwhelming feeling of joy, relief, hope and also sadness,” said Janice Cristobal, M.D., a family physician with The Floating Hospital, reflecting on the loss of lives through the pandemic. But, she says, “We have all worked tirelessly throughout this whole pandemic and there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel through this vaccine.”
As of Jan. 23, The Floating Hospital had administered 535 Covid vaccines to 506 individuals. And, so far, so good. “We have not seen great hesitancy from patients who’ve fallen into the priority groups,” says Dr. Andre.
“There was no question in my mind that this was something I needed to do in order to protect myself, my family, my co-workers, and those who I may come into contact with in public,” said Philip LaRocco, The Floating Hospital’s director of human resources. “I am extremely grateful that I was able receive my first dose shortly after it became available.”
But not everyone who wants or needs a vaccine can get one—a state-imposed policy that hits The Floating Hospital close to home. Last week, New York State issued guidelines for vaccinating people living in dorm-style homeless shelters, but excluded families with children because they live in separate units, not sharing communal sleeping, eating and bathing spaces with the general homeless shelter population.
“It is unfortunate that the state lacks understanding on the lifestyle conditions of homeless families and has chosen to exclude them from early vaccination efforts,” said The Floating Hospital President Sean T. Granahan. “They already face a host of healthcare challenges and, coupled with the early effects of malnutrition, which are demonstrated markers for Covid, the status of these families should be reconsidered by state officials.”
Supply and demand is another impediment.
“Our demand is much greater than the supply we are able to obtain at this point from the Department of Health,” Dr. Andre said, adding the unpredictable flow of supply presents a challenge for scheduling: The doses are to be used within the week they arrive. “Without knowing from week to week how many round 1 vaccines we will be receiving, we cannot advance schedule patients for the vaccine.”
For now, with limited approved eligibility, the current clinic has been able to handle capacity. And as the state widens the pool of eligible New Yorkers, The Floating Hospital anticipates serving its patients from its new main clinic in Long Island City.
“We look forward to having significantly more space to accommodate social distancing, the distribution of vaccines, and our robust COVID testing program,” Granahan says.