Nassau County will be vaccinating eligible veterans on the ground floor of Nassau University Medical Center weekly, and vets can register for an appointment with Nassau County’s Veterans Service Agency. // Photo courtesy of the Office of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran

Nassau County launches program to vaccinate veterans

Nassau County launched a new program in collaboration with Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC) and the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency (VSA) to vaccinate eligible veterans against COVID-19 on Tuesday, March 2.

The initiative is expected to distribute 300 doses of the vaccine to veterans weekly, with staff from the NUMC issuing the inoculation and the VSA registering eligible veterans, according to Laura Curran, Nassau County executive, in a press release.

“Nassau County is home to more than 45,000 veterans and I am dedicated to providing them with access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Curran. “Protecting our vets from this deadly disease is the least we can do as they valiantly fought to protect our freedoms.”

The eligible veterans are those who fall within New York state’s guidelines for Phase 1a and Phase 1b. “It’s supposed to be from 65 [years old] and older, but … they’re giving them the shots 50–55 [years old],” said Ralph Esposito, director of Nassau County’s VSA. “Everybody’s … eligible that served the country in my eyes.”

Wayne O’Connor served in the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1977. Despite his service to the county, he was not eligible for the vaccine initially because he kept falling just under the age bracket. “I’m 64, so it [the group eligibility] went from 70 then to 65 and then I didn’t think I was going to get it,” he said, “and they [NUMC] called me and said, ‘You don’t have to wait, come down to the Nassau County Medical Center.’”

About a month ago, Peter Kiernan, a United States Navy vet who served from 1965 to1970, called to schedule his vaccine appointment. His first shot was planned for April 10 until Curran announced the “Vaccines for Veterans” program. “I called a week and a half ago, and I’ve gotten one shot [today]. My next shot is April 8,” he said. “How fast [did] that happen?”

NUMC distributed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to eligible veterans and staff of Nassau County’s VSA on March 11. Everyone is scheduled to return on April 8 to receive their second inoculation. // Photo courtesy of Annemarie LePard

O’Connor and Kiernan secured their first inoculations on March 11.

When the vaccine was first approved for emergency use in December 2020, its availability was sparse. Now, there are three companies making the inoculations with more doses being distributed quickly. Because of the relatively quick roll out, Nassau County was able to create this program, according to Esposito.

The accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine made the “Vaccines for Veterans” initiative convenient since the shots could be distributed by NUMC in Levittown. If O’Connor were unable to get vaccinated at NUMC, he would have had to travel to Northport, which is 50-miles round trip. “It worked out good for me having to come here,” he said. “The other place I would have been driving for two hours — an hour there and an hour back.”

There are no critics of the program. Instead it is receiving “a lot of praises,” Esposito said.

“Some of these people wouldn’t have been able to travel 50-miles round trip. If you’re in the area, you come here [and] you park right outside,” O’Connor said. “Just the process of coming in here was a dream … It was a homerun; it was fantastic.”

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