MONTICELLO, NY — Seniors are calling, according to Health and Family Services Standing Committee chair Nadia Rajsz. They want to know “where they can get [vaccines]; they can’t get …
MONTICELLO, NY — Seniors are calling, according to Health and Family Services Standing Committee chair Nadia Rajsz. They want to know “where they can get [vaccines]; they can’t get an appointment online. It becomes overwhelming.”
Public health director Nancy McGraw has had those calls, too. “It’s heartbreaking,” she said. There are a lot of people waiting for their turn and, at the moment, there are no vaccines to give them.
County staff and legislators talked last Thursday at the committee meeting about the state’s control over who can be vaccinated, where they can be vaccinated and who can administer the shots. Those mandates have repercussions in rural counties, where a high senior population, small-staffed pharmacies, online registration and no public transportation are conspiring to complicate vaccine distribution.
The list of the vaccine-eligible in New York grows longer this month, as underlying conditions like cancer, heart conditions, developmental disabilities and Type 1 or 2 diabetes are added. Age won’t matter in that case.
But first, the vaccines need to be there. According to a state press release from February 11, “The federal government has increased the weekly supply by more than 20 percent over the next three weeks, but New York’s vast distribution network and large population of eligible individuals still far exceed the supply coming from the federal government.”
As they wait, Sullivan’s public health department is getting ready.
They’re working with public safety commissioner Rick Sauer, with emergency management, the Department of Public Works and the sheriff’s office “on our emergency plan to scale up and get ready to pick a date in March to go to SUNY Sullivan. I have the volunteers ready,” said McGraw.
She, director of communications Dan Hust, family services commissioner John Liddle and others are “making sure that we have [vaccinators] appropriately credentialed and vetted and we know that they’re licensed, they’re trained to provide vaccines.
Who gets the shots? “When we get the vaccine, we also get instructions on who we’re allowed to give it to,” McGraw said.
Rajsz asked if they were considering traveling to more remote towns to immunize especially those who can’t travel, who couldn’t get to SUNY Sullivan. Legislator Joe Perrello asked whether it made more sense to bring everyone to a central hub.
Yes, said McGraw. “There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces to this,” and COVID-19’s been a different experience from past diseases; “from week to week, we’ll know what’s expected of us, who we can give it to and how much we’re getting.”
If they can get permission for a mobile vaccine clinic, Sun River Health has a set-up and is “happy to have us partner with them,” she said.
Then there are the pharmacies. The state has decided that pharmacies are the primary access point for seniors’ vaccines. “We’re pushing back on that... In this county, we have a lot of independent pharmacies and one or two larger ones,” McGraw said.
“Unfortunately,” said legislator Alan Sorensen, “the state has decided to supersede plans that have been in place at the county level for decades now. Otherwise, this would probably be rolling out much more smoothly. But... we’ve got to have faith in Nancy and her team. They’re doing what they need to do in accordance with the cards that were dealt to them from the state.”
As legislators talked about the people they hear from in need of vaccines, McGraw reminded them that the state tells her what to do and whom to vaccinate. “We received a one-time allocation of 600 vaccines for the seniors 65 and up,” she said. “That was it.”
The county will get more when it gets more. “We’re continuing to ask,” she stressed.
“Complicated,” said Ira Steingart.
“It’s a fiasco from the start,” said Rajsz. “It’s nothing to do with our people. It has to do with the federal government, the state. The more people that are sticking their nose into this, the more complicated and convoluted it gets.”
Once upon a time, you walked in, got your shot and your arm was marked that you’d been vaccinated. “Like at a parade or something,” McGraw said. “It’s a lot more complicated than that [now]: we have to collect data, we have to collect more immunization data” so that the state knows when high-risk groups have been vaccinated and what percentage of the population.
“We will continue to push out more information as more pharmacies come online,” she said, advising people to check the county’s website. “We just ask everybody to please be patient because this is going to take a while.”
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