Vaccination list expands, but supply is low
FINGER LAKES--Yates County Director of Public Health Deborah Minor informed the Yates County Legislature Monday, Jan. 11 of the current county COVID-19 status along with the news of two additional deaths over the weekend. Minor, who said both deaths were associated with long term health care facilities, also asked for patience from the public as it relates to vaccine distribution.
"Everyone wants (the vaccine), we were inundated with phone calls, emails and even people coming in person asking for the vaccine and so I am asking people to please be patient," Minor said. "We already administered everything we got last week."
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that front line workers under the classification of 1B could begin to be vaccinated, the supply and demand of the vaccine exceeded the limited rollout. Currently, the state's 1A classification includes front-line health care workers, long term health care residents and employees and respiratory specialists. 1B includes people 75 and over, first responders and staff like police, fire, corrections, school employees and child care workers, and more.
"It's a lengthy list of folks, we want people vaccinated but we need people to know it will take weeks," Minor said. "For 1B it is estimated that it will take 14 weeks to get the vaccine to all those folks."
Monday's COVID update to the community had 53 new cases since Friday, Jan. 8, with four hospitalizations, 13 deaths and 370 people in quarantine or isolation.
Minor also informed the lawmakers that since the state is planning on putting up vaccination clinics throughout New York it is possible that some of the supply the county orders will be diverted to fill other clinics. To date the closest one to Yates County confirmed to be opening is in Broome County.
"So even though we pre-book every week we might not get that exact amount," Minor said.
While the state has listed some pharmacies as having the ability to distribute the vaccine, Minor said no local pharmacies have yet to acquire the vaccine and implored people to stop inundating them with phone calls until they receive a supply. Minor added she doesn't yet know which pharmacies and when they will receive a supply.
"The vaccine arrives in slow increments and we do not have control over that," Minor stated. "The vaccine is safe and what we need it to get through to the other side of it."
Prior to the meeting, Legislative Chairman Douglas Paddock took time to hold the annual Employee Recognition Ceremony. Held virtually for the first time, Paddock and county officials took time to honor 33 employees who have totaled 515 years of service to Yates. Those honored ranged in service from five years all the way up to 30.
"I think we can all agree that 2020 was a very challenging year... it is with the dedication of the employees of Yates that we will emerge from the pandemic... at times the job has not been easy or comfortable, but they have always done with professionalism... that represents the resiliency and compassion of Yates County," Paddock said.
In Schuyler County, speaking at the regular legislative meeting, Monday, Jan. 11, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said health officials have been effectively administering the COVID-19 vaccine, however, the supply has been the limiting factor so far.
"(Last week) we had more vaccines than participants and through a partnership with Schuyler Hospital (we got) the 1A population virtually done with some scheduled clinics to finish that this week. And then [last] Friday the governor expanded the pool, which was a welcome surprise to include the 1B group, but that includes teachers, first responders, people over 75 and the list goes on. Now we have far more demand than supply," O'Hearn said.
The state of New York has said the 1B group could take up to 14 weeks to get vaccinated. Currently, over 600,000 doses have been administered.
O'Hearn added he is expending every effort to obtain more vaccines for the county but explained the process was difficult as every county in the state was doing the same thing.
"We are trying to get more vaccines from both the state and through Cayuga Medical (but in the meantime) we will begin this week vaccinating the 1B population," O'Hearn stated. "We will be nowhere close to putting a dent on that but we will be starting this week."
Along with the county, O'Hearn said he has heard that one local pharmacy has been qualified to receive the vaccine but has not been told when that will occur. This uncertainty, combined with the state announcing those classified under 1B could begin to be vaccinated has resulted in a deluge of calls to not only the county office but to the county health department as well.
"The media did little to help in sending people to location sites starting today," O'Hearn said. "Phones were deluged today from people wanting to get it."
Further complicating the matter is local vaccination sites are not only for local residents, as any site in New York state can be utilized by any resident of the state.
"We have had people come from 100 miles away," O'Hearn said.
In the county-wide update on COVID-19 Monday morning, it was reported there were 36 new cases since last Friday, with four hospitalized, 10 total deaths and 237 quarantined contacts.
"New York state announced individuals in Phase 1B can begin being scheduled for vaccination starting today," the Schuyler health department said in the comments accompanying the update. "However, we are waiting on confirmation from NYS regarding how many doses of vaccine they will be sending to our county this week. We will post clinic dates and times and information on how to register once we know how many doses we will be receiving. Thank you for your patience."
Moving forward, Watkins Glen has already approved the Community Center to be used as a site for mass vaccinations.
"We will be aggressive in trying to increase supply but we have all the other pieces of the puzzle in place, the local partners, the staff, the site, the logistical site to administer the vaccine," O'Hearn said. "So if we had the vaccine and were left to our devices, (which will be unlikely), we could do the entire county in a month."
A brief update was given on the search for a new deputy county administrator, with O'Hearn saying only one qualified candidate has applied for the job.
"We have until the end of the month though," O'Hearn said.
When asked if he would consider expanding the search by advertising the position through more sources O'Hearn said he would take it under consideration.