vaccine hero

The Floating Hospital’s vaccination program keeps up with Covid, one shot at a time

The early days of Covid-19 vaccination distribution were incredibly challenging for the medical community. But for the providers and staff of The Floating Hospital, it was a multi-layered puzzle that presented new challenges daily, if not hourly.

“For us, those first few weeks were a little bit like playing Tetris—you didn’t know who was going to have symptoms or side effects, so we couldn’t decide to vaccinate everyone on staff on the same day,” says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shani Andre. Then there was the issue of storage. Dr. Andre said the decision to receive the Moderna vaccine was driven initially by those logistics. “At that point in time, there was a lack of ultra-cold freezers needed to store the Pfizer version. Not only were they difficult to find and on back order, but our small satellite sites also don’t have the capacity for equipment like that.”

Starting staff vaccinations in December, Dr. Andre, Clinical Project Manager Linda You, and their staff worked intensely to meet and overcome every hurdle they encountered, including challenges such as vaccine hesitancy and finding ways to ease the burden of travelling to get the vaccine in the city’s vulnerable elderly population.

“In first few weeks, making sure the vaccine’s side effects wouldn’t cripple us in terms of patient care was one of the biggest things,” says Dr. Andre, noting that the clinic’s usual work of wellness checks and other non-Covid patient appointments ran parallel to the Vaccination Program—and still do.

Boosting Immunity, and Confidence

At The Floating Hospital’s main clinic in Long Island City, one to two providers were dedicated to handling Covid-19 vaccines only, administering up to 120 per day. The smaller satellite sites, however, don’t have staffs dedicated only to vaccines. Says Dr. Andre, “They’re doing everything—physicals, wellness checks, registering patients, handling the waiting room. It was a lot to make it work.”

covid post montage

Left to right: Dr. Andre being interviewed about our partnership with Catholic Charities to vaccinate adults living in elder housing; The Floating Hospital medical providers being vaccinated soon after the vaccine became available; seniors undergoing a wellness check prior to their vaccinations

The staff are learning, too, that vaccines are more than just getting a shot in the arm. Reducing vaccine hesitancy is another task, involving communications via TFH’s EMR system (email and text blasts that go out to patients informing them of vaccine eligibility and how to get one) and presentations tailored to different vulnerable populations—from families living with homelessness to school groups and senior citizens—to help quell fears and suspicions of the Covid-19 treatment.

“Our education program was important in combatting any bit of reticence that’s based on everything from various incendiary historical issues to younger people who think, ‘I’m healthy; I’ll be okay, so why should I get vaccinated?’ We’ve worked to make sure everyone understands the short and long-term risks [of not getting vaccinated] to themselves, to family, friends and others,” Dr. Andre explained.

Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork

There was help, though, in the form of partnerships, like a team-up with Catholic Charities to vaccinate adults living in elder housing and remove the barriers of mobility by transporting staff to senior centers in Queens or seniors to the Long Island City clinic.,

And recently, there was the big win: A $4.3 million piece of the federal American Rescue Plan bestowed upon The Floating Hospital due to the advocacy of Congressperson Carolyn Maloney and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards—a vital shot in the arm to keep the clinic’s Covid-19 vaccination program running strong for as long as it needs to.

“That money really helps us focus on a comprehensive Covid program—treatment, testing, prevention, education, creating different options for more user-friendly out-patient care, in addition to vaccinations,” says Dr. Andre, adding that the funding will support dedicated staff members who can perform inoculations and become experts, as well as improving clinic infrastructure.

“This funding will help us with enhancements so when people come in, there are safe spaces and all the things needed to keep patients and staff safe.”

— Amy Zavatto

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The Floating Hospital provides high-quality healthcare to anyone who needs it regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, immigration or insurance status, or the ability to pay. By providing unrestricted medical care in tandem with health education and social support to vulnerable New York City families, The Floating Hospital aims to ensure those most in need have the ability to thrive, not just survive.


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