NEW YORK (Reuters) – Friday was a different sort of Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, the legendary home of baseball’s “Bronx Bombers,” as New York ramped up its drive to vaccinate its most vulnerable residents, many who live in the hard-hit Bronx neighborhoods that surround the legendary sports venue.
The stadium, which opened its doors as the city’s newest COVID-19 vaccination hub, is the pride of the Bronx, the most recognizable landmark in the borough that has struggled with one of the highest death rates during the global coronavirus pandemic. The Bronx is predominantly Black and Hispanic, communities that have suffered higher infection and death rates.
With that in mind, city and state health authorities have pointedly restricted to access to the stadium to eligible residents of the Bronx, at least initially.
Jacqueline Soto, a 55-year-old school secretary from the Bronx resident, was one of hundreds who lined up outside the towering stadium. Members of the National Guard, dressed in camouflage, tapped into iPads to check off names before allowing those with appointments to enter.
“I was on a wait list for three weeks, desperate to get a vaccine,” she said. “I was unsuccessful. But today I’m here. I just went on the link yesterday and already I got the appointment today and I’m happy to be here.”
Dennis Flecha, 60, said he had been trying desperately to get a vaccine since January and heard about the Yankee Stadium site that morning on the news at home in the nearby Castle Hill neighborhood.
He arrived about 10 a.m., carrying a note from his doctor in his bag explaining that because of his recent heart attacks and hypertension, “He is very high risk.”
He worried he might be mistaken for someone trying to get a shot before others more deserving.
“But if I get COVID, I’m not going to survive,” he said, speaking through two masks looped on top of each other. After waiting a couple of hours he received an appointment for Monday afternoon, but still he worried it may not come to pass. “I could still get kicked out,” he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio toured the site, wearing a New York Yankee cap for the occasion even though the Boston native is a die-hard fan of the archrival Red Sox.
“This is about equity,” de Blasio said. “This is about protecting people who need the most protection because the Bronx is one of the places that bore the brunt of this crisis of the coronavirus.”
The city has allocated 15,000 doses for the first week, and some 13,000 appointments had already been booked through next Friday to those in eligible groups, including health workers, some essential workers and people more than 65 years old.
Antonio Soto, a 60-year-old schoolteacher who is married to Jacqueline, said he got concerned as his appointment time passed as he was still waiting in a line.
“At first I was scared,” he said. “But once you got in there, smooth sailing, everything was beautiful.”
(Reporting by Dan Fastenberg and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by David Gregorio)