College of Pharmacy Alumnus Prepares First COVID-19 Vaccine in NYC

January 15, 2021

After combating the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year, hope—in the form of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine—arrived in a United Parcel Service (UPS) van on December 14 to Long Island Jewish Forest Hills

Anthony J. Longo, Sr., Pharm.D. ’92P, Director of Pharmacy and Clinical Services, and his team unloaded it from 60 pounds of dry ice into an ultra-cold freezer that stores the vaccine at -80 degrees Celsius. He prepared the first dose of vaccine that was later given to a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY.  

“I have never seen a UPS truck with only one package in it,” Dr. Longo recalled. “I think we all had goose bumps. It was an incredibly amazing and humbling experience knowing that we were the first to receive the vaccine and that I was the first to prepare it; I was very emotional knowing that this was the beginning of our road back to normalcy. We had just made history.”

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Dr. Longo and his team have made adjustments, like many workers in the health-care field. “Obviously, we are all very cautious in our work. We have changed our workflow to ensure the safety of our staff, patients, and colleagues,” he explained. “Nobody stepped back when they had the opportunity. I have an incredible team.” 

He added, “We are beginning to see an increase in cases, but thankfully not the numbers we had last March until June. Our workload has also increased with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Addressing the trepidation many feel about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Longo stressed, “This is a safe vaccine.” He has taken both doses, and each time his only side effect was some mild arm pain. 

“I encourage every family member and friend I have to take it,” he said. “There should be no reason for anyone not to take this vaccine. This is a tool whose first dose gives you 50 percent protection and whose second dose gives you 95 percent protection.”

Currently, Northwell Health has both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines on hand. After seeing all the death and devastation this disease is causing, Dr. Longo explained that the vaccines “will keep millions of people alive and at home with their families. I do not want to see any more cases in my hospital.”

A native of Rosedale, NY, Dr. Longo attended St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, NY. His parents, Anthony and Joanna, were instrumental in always pushing him to do better and go beyond his comfort zone. “They taught me that the only person who can stop you from doing something is yourself.”

After considering several options for college, he thought St. John’s would be an excellent fit—and it was. There, Dr. Longo was President of the St. John’s chapter of the professional pharmacy fraternity Phi Delta Chi, as well as a member of the international pharmacy leadership society Phi Lambda Sigma and other student pharmacy organizations.

Dr. Longo also met his wife, Danielle ’94P, at St. John’s, and she has also enjoyed a long career in the pharmaceutical industry. She served as an academic instructor at St. John’s from 2003 to 2011 and today is an Executive Medical Science Liaison at AstraZeneca

During his time at St. John’s, Dr. Longo interned at many hospitals in the New York area, including Long Island Jewish Medical Center and the Brooklyn VA Medical Center. “I feel that St. John’s prepared me well for my future career,” he said. “The educators there encouraged me to go further in my education.”

Dr. Longo specifically mentioned Anne Lin ’86Pharm.D. as an influential mentor. “It was Dr. Lin who suggested I pursue a career in hospital pharmacy and an American Society of Health System Pharmacists-accredited residency. Because of her, I pursued those goals.”

Diane Neofytidis, Director, Recruitment and Student Employment, Office of Human Resources, has been a close friend of Dr. Longo’s for many years. “He has persevered through some of the darkest days of the pandemic, putting himself at risk for the greater good of the community,” she offered. “His determination, professionalism, and patience in coordinating and preparing the vaccine for his site is nothing short of commendable.” She added, “Anthony regularly speaks to his positive experience with the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.”  

“My education and experiences at St. John’s were excellent,” Dr. Longo reflected. “I really made the most of my time there, and the sense of community that was fostered carried into my professional life.”