Columbia and Greene counties received significantly fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses this week than what had been ordered.
Greene County received 400 Moderna vaccines Tuesday of the 1,000 that were ordered.
“If there’s more coming, I have no idea,” Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said. “I don’t think there’s more coming this week. Generally, they allot them and we get them on a Tuesday.”
Other vaccination distributors were also shorted this week, Linger said.
“None of the area hospitals that are giving [group] 1A doses received vaccines this week,” he said. “Albany Med canceled 1,500 appointments they had already set.”
There is specific criteria to receive one of the 400 vaccines, Linger said.
“Emergency operations and public health planned on two clinics this week when there was an order in for 1,000,” Linger said. “I don’t believe there will be two clinics scheduled [due to the small order.]”
Residents who meet the criteria are being contacted by Public Health, Linger said.
The county used its first 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine at four clinics — three in Catskill and one in Coxsackie.
Residents in groups 1A and 1B are eligible to receive vaccinations, but not all populations will be served by the county health department, Linger said.
“From what we’re being told, our allocations are not to be used for seniors,” Linger said. “The state is going to handle that through medical offices, doctor’s offices, pharmacies or they can go to the state sites if they can get through.”
SUNY Albany is one of several state vaccination sites. Appointments at the state sites are booking three months out, Linger said. Linger said he is only aware of one pharmacy in the county that has received vaccines. He did not recall the name of the pharmacy, but said it was on the mountaintop.
“The state should have available to our Public Health, who has [the vaccines] and who is authorized to give them,” Linger said. “We don’t have that without going through the effort of calling every pharmacy and doctor’s office.”
Senior citizens and veterans also have a different pathway to get vaccinated, Linger said.
Veterans enrolled with Veterans Affairs Healthcare should contact their Veterans Affairs primary health care provider about receiving a vaccine at the Albany Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Veterans who are not enrolled in Veterans Affairs Healthcare who wish to enroll should contact the Greene County Veterans Service Agency at 518-943-3703. The Veterans Service Agency will also provide transportation for eligible veterans scheduled for vaccinations.
The county submitted an emergency operations plan to the state about how vaccines would be distributed, but the plan has not been followed, Linger said.
“It’s been completely ignored thus far,” he said. “Our instructions changed this week from what we were given in the past. We’re not getting the answers that we’re asking for from the state.”
The county’s plan included options for vaccinating homebound residents using a combination of public health, the volunteer medical reserve corps and Greene EMS, or to use county transportation to pick up residents and bring them to a testing site, Linger said.
Linger anticipates vaccinations for group 1 will take longer than the 14 weeks Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicted.
“There are 6 million people in Phase 1A and 1B in New York state,” he said. “Each needs two doses for a total of 12 million doses. The state receives 300,000 per week. Without an increase in supply, it will take 40 weeks to finish those two groups.”
A larger vaccine supply could cause a greater strain on the state’s database, Linger said.
In addition to difficulties residents are having scheduling an appointment, the county has to enter data about who receives the vaccine.
“The system is locking up on a constant basis so when we have people entering our info, it takes hours and hours of extra entry time,” he said. “We’re at a low volume now. As volume increases, it’s going to be a huge problem.”
Linger encouraged residents who are eligible to be vaccinated to contact their doctor’s office or pharmacy, or to schedule an appointment at a state testing site. Updates about the county’s vaccination efforts can be found by visiting https://www.greenegovernment.com/covid-19-vaccine-information
In Columbia County, the Department of Health requested 1,000 doses of the vaccine to be able to vaccinate eligible individuals this week. Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said the state has given the county 100 of the expected 500 doses.
“Thursday we only have 100 vaccines. The state cut us at the last minute on that,” Mabb said. “That’s very disappointing.”
The vaccines distributed Thursday will be given to eligible individuals such as teachers, health care workers and first responders.
Columbia County had been receiving about 300 doses weekly, Mabb said. The state has planned for senior citizens to receive their vaccination through local pharmacies, but no pharmacies in Columbia County have received the vaccine, Mabb said.
This week the county was given 400 vaccine doses to hold an additional vaccine POD (point of distribution) on Friday, which will be exclusively for people over 65.
There have been issues with individuals attempting to sign up to get vaccinated. While the Department of Health was still setting up the online link for this week’s vaccination PODs, somehow 27 people had already signed up for Thursday’s POD and over 60 had signed up for Friday, Mabb said.
“They’re finding ways into this, the CDMS system (the system used for signing up for COVID vaccinations), and the state is aware of this,” Mabb said. “It hadn’t even been posted and we had people signing up. Unfortunately, the 60 that signed up for Friday, a big percentage of them weren’t 65 or older. So we’ve been making phone calls and getting irate people that basically insisted that they had an appointment and whatever, so Friday is going to be interesting.”
There have also been issues with people who are not Columbia County residents signing up for vaccinations in the county. Vaccination PODs are limited to people who live and work in the county, Mabb said.
“We’ve been told that if people sign up and they are [group] 1B, which is the category we’re expected to do, we’ve been told that we can’t refuse them from the door,” Mabb said. “Last week, we had a teacher from Brunswick who signed up and she’s in 1B, and we had to vaccinate her, and I will tell you that as a general rule, the people who are figuring out these links are teachers. They’re figuring out how to manipulate the URLs and they can manipulate it to get in the back door on these things.”
Columbia County has one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the state, Mabb said.
“We have thousands of people out there and when the state throws 400 doses at me, it doesn’t address anything. We’re puttering along with it,” Mabb said.
Earlier this month, Columbia County launched a hotline to answer questions and help people who are over 65 and do not have access to the internet or assistance to register for a vaccine clinic, or are homebound and cannot travel to a vaccine clinic. The Columbia County Information Line can be reached at 518-697-5560 Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
New York state’s COVID vaccine tracker reports 835,875 doses of the vaccine have been distributed statewide as of Jan. 19. In the Capital Region, 57,514 doses of the vaccine have been administered.
As of Jan. 19, 1,200 doses have been distributed in Columbia County, Mabb said.
To see if you are eligible for the vaccine, visit https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov or call the state’s vaccination hotline at 1-833-697-4829.