HUDSON — Local officials are calling out New York state for a delay in available COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s vaccination distribution quote-plan-unquote has done nothing but sow confusion in the state and Columbia County,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell, R-Stockport, in a statement. “Every day seems to bring another random announcement that does nothing to further the cause of getting the vaccine in the arms of our residents.”
The state is giving Columbia County weekly allotments of 300 vaccine doses each week, Murell said.
“It makes no sense at all,” Murell said. “I may be painting with a broad brush here, but basic math tells me if we continue to receive but 300 doses per week, in a county of 62,000 residents, it will take months for individuals to get their first doses.”
Individuals considered by the state to be in the 1B category became eligible Monday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, joining people in group 1A.
Eligible people now include health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, people older than 65, first responders, hospital workers, EMS workers, preschool to 12th-grade staff faculty, school district employees, in-person college staff, childcare providers, individuals living or working in homeless shelters and grocery store workers, among others.
Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said the county has been given a total of 1,500 vaccines so far. The county has held three vaccination clinics and has administered a little over 750 vaccines.
“Within a week we’ve gone through more than half of our allotment that we’ve gotten,” Linger said Wednesday. “My bigger problem is really the announcements that the governor is making to the general public every day. They are creating an immense amount of confusion. The announcements that he is putting out are related to vaccines that don’t yet exist, providers that don’t have them, and what’s happening is the phone lines are jammed up at the state for people to register and when they can’t get through, they call the county health departments and emergency operations centers and we don’t have the answers for them.”
Linger explained that historically, mass vaccination distribution has been the responsibility of county health departments.
“We have plans that have been laid out, submitted, approved, everything ready to go, yet for some reason the state changed course and ignored all of that,” Linger said. “They are setting up state-run vaccination sites. The state has never been in the vaccination business, hospitals have never been in the vaccination business. The state creates the hubs through the hospitals and then wonders why they fail.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced there will be five state-run sites set up for COVID vaccinations that will open this week. More vaccination sites will be announced in the coming days, according to the announcement.
The new vaccination sites will open at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City, Westchester County Center in White Plains and the New York State Fair Expo Center in Syracuse on Jan. 13. The vaccination site at Jones Beach in Long Island and State University of New York at Albany will open Jan. 14 and 15, respectively.
“New York state is rapidly expanding our networks and capabilities to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as fast as our supply allows,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The new vaccine sites across the state will expedite our distribution to get our most vulnerable New Yorkers vaccinated efficiently. Our greatest hindrance continues to be federal inaction. We have come too far to be held back in our efforts by the inadequate vaccine supply from the federal government. I encourage New Yorkers to be patient throughout this process and urge our federal government to increase the supply to states.”
People who are currently eligible need to make an appointment to receive a vaccination, Cuomo said.
New York is allotted 300,000 vaccinations weekly from the federal government and eligible New Yorkers should be prepared to receive an appointment date as far as 14 weeks or more into the future, Cuomo said.
The governor said Wednesday there are currently about 7 million New Yorkers eligible to receive the vaccine.
“The rollout from the state side has certainly been less than optimal,” Linger said. “We have the ability and the training to be able to do this, but we’re not being allowed to do our job, so I think that’s the biggest problem — not allowing your counties to do what they do best. It shouldn’t change the process.”
As of Jan. 12, 1,622,100 doses of the vaccine have been distributed to New York, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker. Since Dec. 14, 579,532 people in the state have received their first dose of the two-dose vaccine, or roughly 3,000 vaccinations for every 100,000 residents, according to the CDC.
New York residents can check their eligibility and schedule vaccination appointments by calling 1-833-697-4829 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Both Murell and Linger say people have been continually having issues getting through on the phone line.
Earlier this week, Columbia County launched its own vaccine information hotline at 518-697-5560 to help handle the additional calls the Department of Health has been receiving.
“As soon as someone hung up the phone, another call comes in, which has only been exacerbated by the state’s hotline being overwhelmed,” Murell said. “The system, such as it is, is broken. There are now millions of more people eligible under the state plan for the vaccine than there are available vaccines. It’s beyond unreasonable to expect the county Department of Health to conduct vaccination PODs (points of distribution), test for the coronavirus, answer a barrage of telephone calls, contact trace and conduct normal business under these conditions, among other daily tasks. This has all been caused by the state’s haphazard approach to managing the vaccine distribution program.”
Murell said Wednesday his comments were not meant to politicize the situation, but to express frustration at the process.