NEW YORK – New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen began winding down their mission at the country's largest COVID-19 mass vaccination site July 9, as the last shot was administered at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.
From Jan. 13 to July 9, the 620 members of the New York National Guard, New York Naval Militia and New York Guard who staffed the site, along with civilian medical and administrative personnel, assisted in providing 647,973 vaccinations.
At least 346,000 New Yorkers received vaccinations at Javits, according to New York State health officials. A more precise number is not available because some people got their first shot at Javits and then got their second shot elsewhere, or vice versa.
During the peak of operations in the spring, the staff at Javits administered 14,000 vaccinations in a single day, according to Dr. Douglas Fish, the senior New York State Department of Health official on-site.
The Javits Convention Center Operation, along with two other mass vaccination sites, stopped operations July 9 because they were no longer an effective way to provide vaccinations, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced July 7.
"We have achieved great progress in beating back the virus and getting enough New Yorkers vaccinated in order to begin getting back to life as we know it, and our mass vaccination sites were key in helping us get here," Cuomo said.
"As we continue our mission to make the vaccine accessible in every community and to focus our efforts on the areas with lower vaccination rates, we are proceeding with the downscaling of mass vaccination sites so that we can shift resources to where they are needed the most," he added.
Joint Task Force Javits was staffed by the New York State Department of Health, Javits Convention Center staff, and the New York National Guard. The New York National Guard provided administrative and logistical support.
National Guard Soldiers and Airmen did the behind-the-scenes work and also were upfront helping New Yorkers through the process.
The mission now, according to New York Army National Guard Col. Michael Bice, the Joint Task Force Javits incident commander, is to spend the next week taking down the facility and demobilizing or reassigning personnel.
Bice, who served as the New York National Guard's officer in charge when Javits served as a COVID-19 treatment facility in 2020, was called back to duty in January to stand up the vaccination site and serve as incident commander.
The goal is to have the convention center back to normal by July 16, according to Bice. The convention will begin hosting shows in August.
Before being used as a mass vaccination site, the convention center served as a COVID-19 alternate care site in the spring of 2020. The New York National Guard worked with state and federal officials to turn the convention center into a field hospital that eventually treated 1,095 patients before closing on May 1, 2020.
"In the face of the greatest public health crisis of our generation, the Javits Center served as a beacon of hope for so many New Yorkers and played a pivotal role in bringing New York back stronger and safer than ever before," said Alan Steel, president and CEO of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, which operates the Javits Center.
"The New York State Department of Health was privileged to serve New Yorkers through the COVID-19 vaccine mission at the Javits Center. Working alongside the National Guard and Javits leadership, we witnessed the resiliency of New Yorkers, who inspired us through their NY Tough spirit," said Fish, who served as the deputy incident commander for the task force.
Most of the 620 military personnel working at the Javits vaccination site were New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen on federal orders. But members of the New York Naval Militia and the New York Guard, which are state-only military forces, also staffed the facility.
The men and women who worked at Javits made a tremendous contribution to New York's efforts to control the COVID-19 virus, Bice told task force members July 9.
Not only did they vaccinate thousands of New York City residents, but the logistics operation based at Javits distributed vaccines and medical supplies across the state, Bice said.
"When you leave here and go back to your family and friends, tell them what you did to save lives," Bice added. "All of you are heroes, be proud of what you have done here."