Hope for a healthier, safer future arrived in a single box aboard a UPS truck that backed up to the loading ramp at Peconic Bay Medical Center about 9:40 Tuesday morning.
Inside that box were thumb-sized vials of the COVID-19 vaccine. They were rushed inside, refrigerated and, shortly after 1 p.m., one vial was brought into a first-floor room where PBMC hospital staffs were poised to witness a historic moment.
And everyone knew it. They broke out in applause. It was applause from a group of medical professionals who, since last March, have been dealing with the ravages of the coronavirus.
They have helped heal the infected; they have helped families say goodbye to patients who lost their lives to the virus; and they have worked to keep themselves safe from a highly contagious killer.
This is true at every hospital on Long Island, in New York State and across America as the death count for this virus has climbed to more than 300,000.
The staffs at our hospitals needed hope that better, safer days are ahead. And we needed hope. Every one of us. And Tuesday, that hope finally arrived. It’s a start, and a good start.
At PBMC, ICU nurse Kristen Hansen took that first vial, loaded a needle and seconds later delivered the vaccine into the left arm of Dr. Nicholas Palamidessi, associate chairman of the hospital’s emergency department.
“I am glad to be patient zero,” Dr. Palamidessi said. He took the shot in his arm without a flinch, as another round of applause marked the importance of the moment.
PBMC CEO Andy Mitchell summed up the morning, saying the delivery of the first vaccines was “amazing” and “historic.” He said 50 staffers had signed up for the initial doses and expressed hope that enough additional doses would arrive in coming weeks to vaccinate everyone in the facility.
The promise that began Tuesday morning at PBMC will quickly spread. Vaccinations will begin Dec. 28 at the skilled nursing facility at Peconic Landing in Greenport, which suffered through one of the initial outbreaks in Suffolk County back in March.
Between Dec. 21 and the end of the year, the first doses will also be administered to employees at Acadia Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Riverhead.
Front-line workers who deal face-to-face with COVID-19 patients and residents of nursing homes will be the first to get the vaccine. Slowly, but surely, it will spread to a wider and wider group until, perhaps by April, the general public can begin to get their vaccinations.
The hope that arrived via UPS in Riverhead is not the beginning of the end of the deadly virus, as health experts say there are many dark days ahead. But it is a beautiful, applause-worthy start.
Tuesday evening, the bell at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., tolled 300 times — one for every 1,000 deaths. Sadly, it will toll again in the coming months. But sometime in the near future, this national tragedy will come to an end.