Riverhead teen receives first vaccine at PBMC as eligibility expands to include anyone over 16

Before she heads off to college at John Jay in the fall, Imani Thomas of Riverhead will have a lot to check off of her ‘to-do’ list.

The 18-year-old took the first step Wednesday afternoon as she rolled up her sleeve for her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Robert Entenmann campus downtown.

“I’m a little nervous,” Ms. Thomas said before checking in. She’s the first Riverhead teenager to receive the vaccine from PBMC.

All smiles underneath her double masks, Ms. Thomas said she’s looking forward to being protected from COVID-19 and getting back to normal.

“I feel a lot happier, a lot more joyful and like we’re moving in the right direction,” she said.

Though John Jay College hasn’t announced any vaccine mandates, a growing number of universities have announced that their students must be vaccinated if they intend to live and study on-campus this fall.

Ms. Thomas, who is planning to study forensic psychology, said she’ll feel safer living in the city with the vaccine. “It’ll put me at ease and make me feel more prepared,” she said.

Reflecting on the last year, Ms. Thomas said she’s seen the devastating effect COVID-19 can have firsthand, losing a grandparent to complications from the virus. She recently returned to Riverhead High School for in-person learning and is hoping to enjoy the rest of her senior year. She said she’s most looking forward to reconnecting with friends outside of social media and FaceTime.

“I’d recommend everyone get [the vaccine] so not only you, but everyone around you can be safe,” Ms. Thomas said.

Her first dose was administered by registered nurse Peter Mantone, who for months has seen the excitement in his patients.

“Everyone’s really happy,” he said. “It’s helping the community a lot, getting the vaccines out there and trying to put this behind us.”

Peter Mantone, RN administers the vaccine. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Amy Loeb, executive director of PBMC, was on hand to congratulate Ms. Thomas. Those 16 and older became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

“It just feels so good to know that [more of the] population is eligible and we’re starting to see more and more shipments of vaccine,” Ms. Loeb said.

Starting next week, the medical group is expected to begin distributing 2,000 vaccines at the downtown office. Appointments will be available online and Ms. Loeb urged the public to monitor the Northwell Health website and social media pages for links as they become available, since appointments go quickly.

“We’ll be very focused on the youth population,” she said, adding that all adults will be eligible to make appointments for the site. Currently, 16 and 17 year olds may receive the Pfizer vaccine with parental consent.

Since late December, Ms. Loeb said PBMC has administered 10,000 doses at the downtown Riverhead office and private practices are now receiving doses too.

“We continue to hope that that ramps up,” she said.