State authorities will correct some of the errors they made with their COVID-19 vaccination rollout by allowing counties to play a bigger role.
Concerns about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, compelled counties throughout New York to develop plans for mass vaccinations. They would prepare communities for the potential use of biological or chemical agents. They also would help regions control the outbreak of infectious diseases.
In response to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s measures designed to address the novel coronavirus pandemic, counties had anticipated being part of the process of delivering vaccinations once they were developed. But state health authorities told counties their plans wouldn’t be required.
“County officials who have for years been planning for a mass vaccination said they are seeing that training and preparation — much of it funded by millions of dollars in federal grants — pushed aside as the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has retained control of the state’s coronavirus vaccination program, including having hospitals rather than local health departments administer the doses,” according to a story published Dec. 23 by the Times Union in Albany. “Interviews with multiple county officials over the past week confirm that many are unclear why the governor’s administration has not activated the county-by-county system, a plan that included recent practice sessions in which members of the public received regular flu vaccines at drive-thru sites. In Albany County, officials have privately said they could vaccinate the population of the southern half of the county in a few days if they were given the coronavirus vaccines and allowed to mobilize their plan.”
State officials have threatened health care professionals with fines and the possibility of losing their medical licenses if they administer vaccines to people who are not part of a group prioritized for the shots in the early going. On the other hand, hospitals that have not used up their supply of vaccines by declared dates are in danger of losing access to the drugs and facing fines themselves.
All this has gone on while the state has been criticized for the problems it has experienced in effectively rolling out its vaccine program. On Thursday, representatives of county governments were assured they would become more involved in the process.
“The outreach came after weeks of confusion and a lack of information-sharing that was exacerbated when county officials were informed that the mass-vaccination planning they had done for years was — at least initially — being set aside in favor of a regional hub strategy headed by hospitals,” according to an article published Thursday by the Times Union. “But the hospitals had not overseen mass vaccinations before, and county leaders said they have been inundated with questions they are unable to answer — especially about who will be vaccinated and when. In a conference call with county executives on Thursday afternoon, three top officials on Cuomo’s coronavirus task force — Larry Schwartz, a former secretary to the governor; state health Commissioner Howard Zucker; and Gareth Rhodes, a deputy superintendent — pledged that the the counties would take on a greater role and that they would also be provided with more data and information.”
This is welcome news to county authorities who have been getting ready for emergencies like this for years. We hope it improves the efficiency of ensuring all New Yorkers receive the vaccine in a timely manner. We also hope Cuomo learns a lesson about trusting professionals who may actually know more about certain problems than he does — and allowing them to take the lead.