COVID-19 vaccines arrive at South Shore University Hospital

Staffer aims to set example for colleagues and others


South Shore University Hospital has joined the list of provider centers in New York State that have begun distributing the coronavirus vaccine.

Emergency medicine resident at South Shore University Hospital, Matthew Rivera, received the first dose of the vaccine around 1 p.m. Dec. 15. Rivera, 45, was the second staff member to get the vaccine.

But the Bay Shore resident said he didn’t realize he’d be one of the first in line for the vaccine – he simply signed up when he was able.

“I assumed all the morning slots were taken, so when I signed up for the 1 p.m. spot, I was surprised to find people were interested, to be honest,” Rivera said.

Regardless, he said he’s grateful to be one of the first staff members to obtain the vaccine.

“I wanted to set an example,” he said. “I also wanted to protect my health moving forward as much as I can.”

Rivera believes that getting the new vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, could influence others to be more comfortable with getting the vaccine and encourage them to schedule appointments.

“There was a lot of skepticism – even amongst hospital employees and other physicians about whether they would do it; they were very apprehensive,” he said. “I’m not going to say I wasn’t a little nervous, but the risk benefit for receiving the vaccine, I think, is huge – especially with what we’re doing here.”

Just last week, New York received its first delivery of 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Dec. 11 that New York expects to receive 346,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine the week of Dec. 21.

The first New Yorkers to receive the vaccine will be high-risk hospital workers – which includes emergency room workers like Rivera, as well as ICU and Pulmonary Department staff. It also includes nursing home residents and staff, followed by all long-term and congregate care residents and staff, EMS workers, other health care workers, coroners and medical examiners. Staff at every hospital will have access to the first vaccine allocation, according to the New York Department of Health website.

A spokesperson with South Shore University Hospital said that as of Dec. 18, Northwell Health has vaccinated more than 3,200 employees in its entire health care system. That number is expected to increase.

Rivera, who started working in the hospital in July 2020, is currently in the second year of a post-graduate program.

“The country is a little divided right now, so sometimes people are taking opportunities to make political statements and are steadfast in their beliefs,” he said of the public skepticism about the vaccine. “If people want to believe something, they don’t necessarily need evidence to believe it, because they’re going to just pick and choose what they want to believe.”

Despite his public refusal to wear a mask in the past, Vice President Mike Pence received the first dose of the vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18. He received the vaccination alongside Second Lady Karen Pence.

Rivera, who spent over 22 years in the military, partially in the Marine Corps, said the pandemic has encouraged the Emergency Department team to grow closer.

“When you go through something as difficult as what we’ve seen… we’ve really grown closer as a team,” he said.

During a press conference on Friday, Dec. 18, Cuomo said that an estimated 75 to 85 percent of Americans must take the vaccine for it to be effective. While the vaccination process is underway, New Yorkers should continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid small and large gatherings


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