Youmans, 30, said she was vaccinated earlier this month. Members of her family are immunocompromised and had been extra careful about following pandemic protocols. So when she finally got her shot, it was a huge relief.
“Now it’s like, I wish I could have gone to the blue whale,” she joked, saying it would have been a good story.
“'Where did you get the vaccine, what vaccine did you get?’ — that’s the hot topic now. Then you can go, ‘I got the Moderna vaccine under the blue whale in the museum.’ ”
When it opens later this week, the mass site in the museum’s Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life will be able to administer up to 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine per day, said Dave A. Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It will be open Fridays to Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. People can register by selecting the museum site through the city’s vaccine finder.
Chokshi said he is “genuinely thrilled” about the opening of this site.
“Not just because it’s one more place where New Yorkers can gain access to the vaccine, but because it’s such an iconic monument to science and discovery,” he said in an interview. “The fact that it’s serving as a setting for a historic vaccination campaign is both exciting as well as perfectly fitting.”
He said that since the opening was announced, he has heard from people who are enthusiastic about the idea of shots administered at a place they frequented as kids or where they now bring their own children.
And of course, everyone’s talking about the whale.
Ahead of the site’s opening, the museum adorned the 21,000-pound whale with a bandage. A time-lapse video from the museum shows a member of its exhibition’s department applying the bandage early Monday.
“People recognize what a historic and monumental time we’re in, and we’re all grasping for the right ways to process what has happened during this pandemic,” Chokshi said. “Having the larger-than-life whale, sort of this physical manifestation of what vaccination means, this giant experience that all of us have gone through — I think there’s something about that imagery that is evocative of what so many people are feeling right now.”
Those who get vaccinated at the site will get a sticker with an image of the bandage-wearing whale, the museum said. They will also get a free general admission voucher for a future visit for a group of four.
Chokshi said that in addition to serving eligible New York City residents, the city will set aside appointments for New York City Housing Authority residents and staff members as well as members of District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union, which includes members who work in the city’s cultural institutions. The museum’s staff members will also be able to get shots there.
Henry A. Garrido, executive director of DC 37, noted the pandemic’s devastating impact on cultural institutions, which meant furloughs and layoffs for many workers.
Setting aside appointments for members who work in these institutions “is an important step for us in our recovery and our return to work, so we can get back to some level of normalcy,” he said.
“It’s critical, for the viability of these institutions, that we begin to open them with a sense of responsibility,” he said. “We would like our workers to be vaccinated and are encouraging them to do so, but also want the public to be able to access vaccines so they can return to the cultural institutions.”
Garrido said about 34 percent of the union’s members have been vaccinated and he hopes it can get closer to 60 percent.
Museum president Ellen Futter said she saw opening the mass vaccination site there as “part of New York’s comeback.” She said the effort aligns with the museum’s “civic mission and our scientific and educational mission,” and she said it’s a place that people trust.
“There’s something comfortable about it and makes people smile even in the context of something as horrific as this pandemic and even in the context of getting jabbed,” Futter said.
Youmans, a lifelong Long Island resident, said she thought it was a smart idea to have vaccinations administered at a well-known and beloved setting. She described the museum as an iconic institution, a place you take friends when they come to New York, a reminder of normal pre-pandemic activities.
“It makes it sort of fun and humanizing,” she said. “Being able to use a location to entice people into a place where they usually go or maybe haven’t gotten to visit because of covid or another reason … to be able to step inside briefly is a great incentive.”
In that same way, Chokshi said, it helps people visualize the kinds of activities they can return to once fully vaccinated.
“I often ask people in that 15-minute waiting period while we’re observing them, ‘What is it that you’re looking forward to?,’ ” he said. “There are so many stories of people looking forward to gathering with loved ones or travel that’s been deferred.
“In a place like New York City, with all of the cultural institutions that we have just a subway ride away,” he added, “this is just one more thing people are really looking forward to once we turn the corner on the pandemic.”