My Personal COVID-19 Vaccine Experience at the Javits Center

Javits Center, a convention center and former location of the New York Comic Con, was transformed into a vaccination site in January 2021. It had surpassed administering 250,000 vaccinations as of March 30th, 2021.


Alexandra Zwiebel

When you first enter Javits Center for your vaccine appointment, this is what you will see across the span of the lobby. In this photograph, taken in the late afternoon, it is entirely empty, but earlier in the day, it is often busier.

As a mid-afternoon sunset flooded into the main entryway through the clear, paneled windows, the Javits Center was illuminated with light and the gratuitous smiles of those who had just received their vaccines. Javits Center has made substantial progress with their military-run vaccine distributions, truly exceeding the expectations many people had about the process of receiving the potentially life-saving coronavirus vaccines.

Towards the end of March 2020, the Jacob K. Javits Center became an emergency hospital because of the massive amount of COVID-19 cases in New York City. A Business Insider article published on March 24, 2020 explains how the center was divided into four different hospitals, each with 250 beds and 320 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers. Although this appeared to be an effective plan to expand the medical resources available for COVID-19 relief, Business Insider released another article almost a month later about why Javits Center was empty. It could not even serve as a proper hospital space due to the lack of equipment and the near impossibility of a patient getting transferred there.

Despite this roadblock back in 2020, Javits Center has now been transformed into one of the largest and most elegant vaccination centers in the city. Many people, including myself, have gushed about the professional and efficient vaccination experience at Javits. As one of the youngest people getting vaccinated at the center, I felt that all of the military officials and nurses made it a comforting and enjoyable experience – as enjoyable of an experience as getting a shot can be.

When I first entered, I was received in a large, and mostly empty, lobby area lined with queue barriers and military officials. My temperature was taken, and then I was guided down a long walkway until reaching a massive room of the convention center filled with tables and nurses; this is where I was officially checked in. As a minor, I had to be checked in by a parent and made aware of risk factors and other information about the vaccine.

It was challenging to document the vaccination process at Javits since it is a military-run operation that prohibits photos, videos, or recordings, though I did manage to snap some quick photos and discuss with the nurse who had checked me in, a young woman in scrubs from Buffalo, NY who had worked as a traveling nurse prior to helping with vaccinations at Javits. Though she would like to remain anonymous, she was happy to answer any questions. 

What was your experience with receiving the COVID vaccine?

So at first, I was nervous because, you know, this was the new vaccine, everything is still new, nothing is pretty much set in stone. But with me working with a lot of people daily, I want to protect myself as well as protect the people I’m working with and the patients. So it was scary at first, but I am glad that I did receive the vaccine.

How has it been working here at Javits?

It’s been very organized, that’s for sure. Some days are busier than other days, but for the most part, I think it’s going pretty well.

Here we can see two of the bulletin boards that are placed next to the screen counting the vaccinations. Here is where each patient is able to write messages to the nurses for their hard work throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, using the provided pens and paper (not pictured). (Alexandra Zwiebel)

Do you realize how big of a role you have and how fulfilling it is that you’re putting an end to COVID-19?

Yes, definitely. Sometimes, some of my patients start crying and say, “I’m so happy that I’m here and getting vaccinated.” And before I was working over here [at check-in], I was working at the vaccination site, and that was amazing because some people will say, ‘I just want to hug you,’ because they are truly happy that they are receiving the vaccine. I love it. I’m happy that I can be a part of it.

Though our conversation was short, it was deeply meaningful to truly get her view of playing such a vital role in helping to end the Coronavirus pandemic.

After being checked in, a soldier escorted me to another area of the center filled front to back with about “130 nurses at 58 tables,” an estimate of the number of nurses in a New York Times article about their work at Javits Center. Once seated, my nurse reinforced the information concerning the vaccine that I was receiving and then gave a quick and mostly painless shot into my upper arm. Overall, the time with the nurse administering the shot is only minutes, but after chatting with mine, I found that she had given over 100 shots since the beginning of her workday.

As you exit the waiting area after receiving your shot, you are able to see the number of vaccinations that have been administered at Javits Center. This photo was taken on March 13th, 2021 and many more vaccines have been given since then. (Alexandra Zwiebel)

Due to the fact that I had gotten my vaccine later in the day, the center’s rush was dwindling down and not as many people were coming in. After getting my shot, I was seated in a waiting area for 15 minutes to ensure I did not suffer from any severe symptoms. After my time in the waiting area was up, there were boards for us to write kind letters to nurses and also a screen counting the vaccinations completed that day. This was where photos were allowed to be taken and from that point, I was able to leave.

Even though my vaccination at Javits in early March 2021 was informative and comfortable, the center is continuing to find ways to improve patients’ experience as much as possible. An article by Kathy Willens details that there was a pianist playing classical music to welcome those getting vaccinated; another patient, who had an appointment at the end of March 2021, also pointed out that there was a harpist in the lobby, and that the kind and diligent service of the workers was outstanding. It was a truly unparalleled experience, and Javits has worked towards making it special for the patients. 

Towards the exit of the center the walls are lined with posters similar to the one shown here, where patients can take more pictures to show their excitement for getting vaccinated. (Alexandra Zwiebel)

Not only is receiving the vaccine extremely fulfilling for many people, but its effective distribution has also provided relief for the fear that COVID-19 has instilled in many of us. One of the handwritten notes to nurses on the board read, “I’m no longer scared,” showing the powerful impact that the COVID-19 vaccines have on adults and their perception of reaching some future degree of normality in life. 

This is why it is imperative that everyone gets vaccinated as soon as they possibly can in New York City. Vaccinations as amazing as those at Javits Center are a resource for all, especially now since teens ages 16 and up are able to become vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. To book a vaccination for yourself or a family member, use the link here:

“I was working at the vaccination site and that was amazing because some people will say, ‘I just want to hug you,’ because they are truly happy that they are receiving the vaccine. I love it. I’m happy that I can be a part of it.”