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COVID In New York City: Some Washington Heights Residents Miffed Outsiders Getting Priority For Vaccine At Armory Site

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's the hottest ticket in town -- securing a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

But for many, it hasn't been easy, especially at sites in their own backyards, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported Wednesday.

It's a tale of two cities for Washington Heights residents trying to book appointments for the vaccine at the Washington Heights Armory site, which is run by New York-Presbyterian.

"I think we just got lucky, maybe 35 minutes, 40 minutes," Wilson Ovalle said.


But fellow Washington Heights resident Michael Thomas-Faria was out of luck trying to book a shot.

"We got an appointment at Mount Sinai downtown," Thomas-Faria said.

White Plains resident Carol Weintraub said she tried signing up at three different drug stores in Westchester but ended up driving to Manhattan for a COVID vaccine at the armory.

"I went on, I got mine, I went to register him and they were gone already," she said.

CBS2's Ali Bauman was hard-pressed to find anyone at the site who was actually from the neighborhood.

Bernie Casserly came from Rockland County.

"All the other sites that we went online for were no appointments available," Casserly said.

Watch Andrea Grymes' report --

Ivy Helstein came from Great Neck.

"There was nothing through any of the hospitals nearby," she said.

Meanwhile, Washington Heights resident Carolyn Hearn had to go down to the Javits Center for her shot.

"There were no places about 133rd Street," she said. "The whole system is just totally, totally chaotic."

She was surprised by how empty it was at the state-run vaccine hub.

"It seems very quiet, not a lot of people there," Hearn said.

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City Councilman Mark Levine says vaccination sites like the armory should prioritize at least some appointments for members of the community. The armory is in a COVID hotspot minority neighborhood, but he noted many people getting the vaccine don't live in the area.

"People are coming from elsewhere and I don't blame them because they're desperate to get a shot, but we just have to do more to ensure that local neighborhoods aren't crowded out," Levine said.

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New York-Presbyterian had opened appointments to people over age 65. Anthony Wolanski, a 72-year-old with diabetes, qualified and drove down for his shot from Rockland County.

"Getting an appointment was a disaster online. I think people gotta get 'em from wherever they can at this point," Wolanski said.


Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted the armory site earlier this month as a way to fight back against inequality with the virus. Grymes asked him Wednesday if a person's address should be taken into account when giving appointments.

"You have people chasing this vaccine all across the state. I do not have a problem with restricting a site when you are targeting a problematic community," Cuomo said.

"Community people have to see those sites are really for them and they're not being somehow left out of sites in their own community. So this needs to be fixed right away," Mayor Bill de Blasio added.

The mayor promised that in the next few days he'll release demographic data in terms of who has been vaccinated so far.

CBS2 reached out to New York-Presbyterian and received a written response Wednesday evening. It says, effective immediately, 100% of new appointments at the center will be for New York City residents and a minimum of 60% will be reserved for eligible residents of Washington Heights, Inwood, northern and central Harlem and the South Bronx.

All existing appointments will still be honored.

Meanwhile, Gary Holmes, Department of Health Spokesperson, released the following statement regarding the Javits Center vaccine hub:

"We've steadily averaged around 1,000 vaccinations a day since the Javits Center opened. There has been no drop off in productivity from week one to week two. We have the capacity to do far more than the supply allocated to us by the Trump administration, and fortunately the Biden administration has already demonstrated they are in line with our goal to get shots in the arms of New Yorkers as quickly and safely as possible. We look forward to increased vaccinations with increased supply."

To help administer doses, the Department of Defense will deploy as many as 10,000 military service members to federally run vaccination sites across the country.

CBS2's Andrea Grymes and Ali Bauman contributed to this report.


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