New Yorkers Crowd COVID Vaccine Distribution Site After Fake Message Spreads News of Extra Doses

A fake WhatsApp message promising vaccine doses to anyone in the area lured hundreds of New Yorkers hoping to get inoculated against COVID-19.

Lines wrapped around Brooklyn Army Terminal in the borough's Sunset Park neighborhood on Thursday night after the false message went out earlier that afternoon.

"PLEASE SHARE: We need to give out 410+ doses in the next 4 hours at Brooklyn Army Terminal (by 7 p.m.), taking anyone in community age 18+, walk ins, or earlier than scheduled," the WhatsApp message said.

But the anonymous message was wrong, and the distribution site was inundated with walk-ins, creating confusion among people who had actual appointments.

Just before 5:30 p.m., the New York City mayor's press secretary debunked the message.

"There is NOT available vaccine for people without appointments. This was misinformation and the notification did not come from the NYC gov," Bill Neidhardt posted on Twitter.

Neidhardt added that the WhatsApp message "did all it could to look official," but that the distribution site did not have 400 extra doses.

However, there is still confusion about whether there were any walk-in doses available, as a video circulated of a person who appeared to be a site worker saying they had some extra doses, but not enough for the crowd.

"Today was an exception," the woman said in the video. "It was a single event. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer walk-ins anymore."

Currently, health care workers, nursing home residents, teachers, school staff, first responders, public transit workers, public safety workers and people over 65 are eligible for the vaccine in New York. But even for those groups, getting an appointment has been difficult due to demand and issues with the website.

One woman with an appointment, 29-year-old Ashley Privett, an educator at a museum, told the Washington Post that she panicked when she saw the crowds outside.

"Even workers were confused," Privett said. "I spoke to a staff person and she said, 'We're not honoring appointments.' I freaked out."

But another staff member came out and directed people with appointments to a separate area, and Privett was able to get inside for her dose, where "everyone moved like clockwork." She said the crowds outside show the urgency for the vaccine after ten months of the pandemic.

"I think people are desperate to get a vaccine," she said. "I think a lot of people just really want to get back to whatever their lives were pre-March of last year, which I totally understand. But this is not the method to do that."

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