NEW YORK – Sixty-five New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen supported state health and emergency service agencies setting up mass COVID-19 vaccinations at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx Feb. 5.
The state Department of Health selected the site to vaccinate at-risk members of the Bronx community, first responders, and essential employees. Public and private partners, city and state government, the National Guard and the New York Yankees collaborated on the project, officials said.
Among the five boroughs of New York City, the Bronx continues to have the highest COVID-19 positivity rate, which played a key role in choosing the stadium as a vaccination site, said New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
"Our efforts to target vaccinations by locations with higher positivity rates have been working to not only keep the infection rate down but to help ensure equity in our vaccine distribution process," Cuomo said.
"We reached out to Yankee Stadium with a somewhat unorthodox request, which is would Yankee Stadium be willing to help us with this COVID crisis by making the stadium available as a mass vaccination site. Yankees ownership and management said yes," Cuomo said.
Members of the National Guard, who developed and deployed vaccine points of distribution across New York State, provided troops to prepare and administer the vaccination site.
Soldiers, Airmen, Naval militia and New York Guard members assisted with logistics, access control and moving residents through the stadium. Guard medical personnel also administered vaccine injections.
The site operated with the urgency of a combat field hospital to make sure no vaccines went to waste.
The goal is to administer 15,000 vaccine doses in a week, with appointments at the stadium 12 hours a day.
"I spoke to a great amount of people," said New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jeremy Cardenales, noncommissioned officer in charge of the site.
"They said they don't mind the wait as long as they get vaccinated, that it is all worth it. It's been a positive reaction from everybody," said Cardenales, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery. "They're excited to get vaccinated."
SOMOS Community Care provided medical personnel at the site administering the vaccines.
"In a great baseball movie, Field of Dreams, the script reads, 'If you build it, they will come,'" said Dr. Ramon Tallaj, SOMOS chairman. "I am optimistic that will be the case for communities of color and vaccination at Yankee Stadium – and we are ready to get the doses in arms our city needs to get back to work, reopen schools and small businesses, and recover from this pandemic."
Guard men and women helped ready and move syringes loaded with vaccine from the pharmacy area to nurses and doctors at stations around Yankee Stadium.
"This is an exciting day in the Bronx, and you know, this is a special place, Yankee Stadium, and has been the host of a lot of really special opening days, and I would say this is the most special opening day," said Aaron Boone, Yankees manager. "The fact that we're able to be out there and really saving lives in this community, this is a day of hope, and it's really exciting to be here and to be a small part of it."
Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of the New York National Guard, said Soldiers and Airmen were "happy to be part of this effort to provide vaccinations for residents of the Bronx."
Welcoming the community to the vaccine site was legendary Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera.
"I used to pitch here and save games. Now this is about saving lives," Rivera said. "This is greater than baseball. I mean, we're talking about thousands and millions of people, and I walk around people there getting the vaccine, and I see so many smiles on faces. That's what it's all about. Hope is the name of the game right now."
After the initial week of first dose vaccinations, the site will reopen after 21 days so Bronx residents can receive the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The temporary Yankee Stadium site complements the ongoing efforts of National Guard forces to support vaccination sites across the state.
National Guard members are assisting at vaccination sites in Manhattan, Queens, Jones Beach, Stonybrook, White Plains, Albany, Binghamton, Oriskany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Potsdam and Plattsburgh. The sites are providing an average of more than 16,000 vaccines to eligible recipients each day.