With expanded eligibility, PBMC begins vaccinations for youngest patients yet in next step to fighting pandemic

For students seeking a return to normalcy — seeing friends, hugging grandma, ditching their masks, being in school full time and playing contact sports — a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Friday offered a glimmer of hope.

Earlier this week, the FDA expanded its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents aged 12 to 15 years old. On Friday, Peconic Bay Medical Center began vaccinating some of their youngest patients to date.

Friday’s first dose was administered to 12-year-old Joseph Gerrity of Bohemia, who said he was excited when he heard eligibility had been further expanded Monday.

His mom, Erica, senior director of operations for PBMC, said her son had been very persistent. “As they continued bringing the ages down, he’d say “Is it 12 yet? Is it 12 yet,” Ms. Gerrity said. “Working through COVID and seeing how everything changed, we just couldn’t wait.”

Joseph’s uncle, pediatrician Robert Rubin, stood by as the shot was administered.

“It was a huge relief and makes me excited to see everything improving so that the world is one step closer to getting back to normal again, especially for kids,” Dr. Rubin said.

Travis Joyce, a 14-year-old student at Riverhead Middle School, was among the first in line to roll up his sleeve Friday morning.

“Most of my friends didn’t want to do it, so I decided to,” he said, to show that it’s safe. “It’s going to help.”

Travis was able to secure an appointment thanks to a partnership between the hospital and Riverhead Central School District to vaccinate students on Friday and Saturday.

Hospital officials estimate over 120 doses will be administered during the two-day event to students, staff and their families.

Interim superintendent Christine Tona thanked the hospital for offering vaccine appointments for students, especially with prom and graduation season approaching and news that many colleges and universities will require vaccination.

Currently, Suffolk County Department of Health Services requires that in order to attend prom, students must either be fully vaccinated or demonstrate proof of a rapid COVID test within six hours or a PCR test within 72 hours.

Peconic Bay Medical Center is teaming up with Riverhead Central School District to offer vaccines for students over age 12. (Credit: Tara Smith)

“The Riverhead Central School District was pleased to be able to partner with Peconic Bay Medical Center and Northwell Health to provide the opportunity for students, their families and staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in their hometown,” Ms. Tona said.

PBMC Executive Director Amy Loeb said it’s wonderful to provide vaccines to students and their families. “The vaccine is our first line of defense in this pandemic, and we have seen the positive impacts it has had for our community,” she said. “Our area’s infection and hospitalization rates have dropped significantly, and the vaccination has certainly played a part in that.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over 3.85 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

As a pediatrician, Dr. Rubin said parents should not be hesitant.

“The vaccine is very safe,” he said. “It has been very well tested,” adding that children are included in the notion of herd immunity.

“Children count in those numbers and until we can vaccinate our children, there is no possible way to reach the immunity numbers that would make herd immunity a reality,” Dr. Rubin said.

He encouraged parents to reach out to their family doctors with questions and consult reputable online sources, including the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Be very careful with where you do your research,” he said. “Don’t base your decisions on memes you see on Facebook.”

Plenty of appointments are still available at the Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Robert Entenmann campus downtown. To make an appointment, visit

Walk-ins for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also be offered Tuesday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.