The last year has been long for many New Yorkers, cooped up in their tiny apartments during the pandemic, but now more than half of the city’s inhabitants have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and the city that never sleeps is coming alive again.
The Covid-19 vaccine is now available to all Americans over 16 and in New York it is being offered at hundreds of locations including in small, independent pharmacies like Health Wise Pharmacy on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Head pharmacist, Lisa Bash, who has worked here for 20 years has found vaccinating locals really gratifying.
“I am so happy to be able to help,” said Lisa, beaming as she leant over the pharmacy counter, “especially the older people who don’t have computer access and can’t figure out how to book an appointment at the Javits Center mass vaccination site, or people who live too far and can’t move that well. So them coming here and me being able to vaccinate them is the best feeling.”
In the past month, Lisa has vaccinated more than 400 people, including local concierge Jiovani Paez. He lost two family members to Covid-19 and suffered from depression during the pandemic, worrying that it was the end of the world.
He was hesitant to get the vaccine at first, concerned about possible side effects. But once his sister and wife got the jab and he saw that they were fine, he decided to get it himself.
“I feel like a superhero,” he said right after his first Moderna shot. “It feels like a weight has been taken off my shoulders.”
'It’s almost like an emancipation'
More than 132 million Americans – 40 percent of the population – have received at least their first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. The US has now vaccinated more people than any other country in the world.
The effects of this are apparent on the streets of Manhattan, where customers are returning to cafés and restaurants – some even have waiting lists again.
A young, newly vaccinated couple sitting outside Felice Italian restaurant on 1st Avenue, soaking up the spring sunshine with their puppy, Kennedy, expressed their joy at being able to go out and about again.
“People are more comfortable interacting on the street," said Frank Colleluori, a 29-year-old lawyer. "We have a puppy and people are a lot more eager to come close to the puppy and we’re comfortable around them too.”
Frank and his partner, Javier Cruz-Perez, stayed in the city throughout the pandemic.
“I feel very lucky to live here in New York at this time,” Javier confided. “I mean look where we started in this pandemic and now it’s a complete 180.”
Just down the street, a group of five retirees, who are all vaccinated, are celebrating their birthdays over a meal. Four of them are turning 70 today.
“It’s almost like an emancipation,” Shakoor Aljuwani said as he sipped his wine. “I mean I’ve spent most of the last year in my bedroom. I really did not think I was going to survive the pandemic and actually see my 70th birthday, but here I am.”
Downtown at Union Square, there is a street party going on. Activists are giving away marijuana – which was recently legalised here in New York State – to people who can prove they’ve had the vaccine.
It is part of an initiative, called ‘Joints for Jabs’, to celebrate both April 20th – the unofficial holiday celebrating marijuana – and the vaccine rollout here in the US.
A long queue of vaccinated New Yorkers, young and old, stretches around the park.
Laura Ganz, a 24-year-old Italian student, takes a long draw of her joint, “Back home in Italy the vaccine is only available to people over 70. And, well, marijuana is not available either – it's not legal in Italy,” she laments. “It’s actually a mess there. You wouldn’t see this in Italy right now. I’d like to stay here in New York, I love it.”