College of Pharmacy Alumnus Role in Historic First Vaccination in New York City


TORCH PHOTO / Brenden Willisch

Coronavirus hit New York City incredibly hard last March, prompting the city to become the epicenter of the pandemic. During the health crisis, first responders and healthcare personnel had their lives sped up in a frenzy as cases mounted and hours devoted to treating ill patients skyrocketed. Although the pandemic is not over, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines bring hope that some form of normalcy will return. Anthony J. Longo, Sr., Pharm.D. ‘92P, Director of Pharmacy and Clinical Services at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, was part of the team that prepared the very first dose of the vaccine in New York on Dec. 14. 

Longo recalls feeling bewildered as he and his team unloaded the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

“I have never seen a UPS truck with only one package in it,” he said in a University press release on Jan. 15. “I think we all had goosebumps. 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.”

Longo, who has received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine himself, addressed the possible anxiety of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“This is a safe vaccine,” he said in the press release. “There should be no reason for anyone to not take this vaccine. This is a tool whose first dose gives you 50 percent protection and whose second dose gives you 95 percent protection.”

Since the vaccine has been made available to healthcare personnel in New York City, many St. John’s University College of Pharmacy students have already received one or both of the doses due to their current jobs as technicians or interns at pharmacies. 

Longo, a Rosedale, NY, native who attended St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, was encouraged by his parents, Anthony and Joanna, to push beyond his comfort zone. He chose to enroll at St. John’s for a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy, and served as the 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. 

“Phi Lambda Sigma prides itself on our commitment to support pharmacy leadership by recognizing leaders and fostering leadership development,” Phi Lambda Sigma said in a statement to the Torch regarding Longo. “We are beyond proud that one of our own alumni has made such strides in the field of pharmacy through their commitment to the COVID-19 vaccine research in the US.”

Michelle Chin, a fifth year pharmacy student and the Director of Public Relations at Phi Lambda Sigma, also received both doses of the vaccine. 

“If anyone eligible is given the opportunity to get the vaccine, I would recommend them to get it,” Chin said to the Torch.

Longo reflects back on his education at the College of Pharmacy earnestly.

“I feel that St. John’s prepared me well for my future career. The educators there encouraged me to go further in my education. It was Dr. Anne Lin (‘86 Pharm.D.) who suggested I pursue a career in hospital pharmacy,” Longo said. “Because of her, I pursued those goals.” 

Longo’s contributions during the entirety of his career, and especially during the pandemic, have been bravo-worthy. Diane Neofytidis, the director of the Office of Human Resources, is a close friend of Dr. Longo’s. 

“He has persevered through some of the darkest days of the pandemic, putting himself at risk for the greater good of the community,” Neofytidis said in the press release. “His determination, professionalism, and patience in coordinating and preparing the vaccine for his site is nothing short of commendable.” 

As spring approaches slowly but surely, Longo hopes that the wave of death and devastation onset by COVID-19 will be left behind as vaccines become more readily available to the public.

“[The vaccine] will keep millions of people alive and at home with their families,” Longo said. “I do not want to see any more cases in my hospital.” 

The vaccine has the power to change lives, just as the College of Pharmacy at St. John’s changed Dr. Longo’s. “My education and experiences at St. John’s were excellent,” he said. “I really made the most of my time there, and the sense of community that was fostered carried into my professional life.