MAYVILLE, NY: “I fully understand, appreciate and applaud the public’s eagerness to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County Public Health Director. “However, the supply of vaccine is limited and all vaccine providers must follow New York State’s phased distribution plan based on need and risk.”
In December 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for two COVID-19 vaccines. The federal government has distributed vaccine to nursing home residents and staff across the country. Beyond that, state governments work with the federal CDC which oversees a centralized system to order, distribute and track COVID-19 vaccine. More information on vaccination in NYS can be found at https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/.
New York has developed an online tool, Am I Eligible?, to determine if you are currently eligible to receive a vaccination and, if you are, to connect you with providers who can administer a vaccine. It is critical to note, that because of limited supply of vaccine, successful completion of the application does not guarantee that you have access to vaccine at this time. You can recheck your eligibility at any time at https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/.
NYS is currently in Phase 1A of its distribution plan. Those eligible for vaccination at this time include:
- High-risk hospital workers (emergency room workers, ICU staff and Pulmonary Department staff)
- Residents and staff at nursing homes and other congregate care facilities
- Federally Qualified Health Center employees
- EMS workers
- Coroners, medical examiners and certain funeral workers
- Staff and residents at OPWDD, OMH and OASAS facilities
- Urgent Care providers
- Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines
- All Outpatient/Ambulatory front-line, high-risk health care workers of any age who provide direct in-person patient care
- All staff who are in direct contact with patients (i.e., intake staff)
- All front-line, high-risk public health workers who have direct contact with patients, including those conducting COVID-19 tests, handling COVID-19 specimens and COVID-19 vaccinations
- This includes, but is not limited to,
- Doctors who work in private medical practices and their staff
- Doctors who work in hospital-affiliated medical practices and their staff
- Doctors who work in public health clinics and their staff
- Registered Nurses
- Specialty medical practices of all types
- Dentists and Orthodontists and their staff
- Psychiatrists and Psychologists and their staff
- Physical Therapists and their staff
- Optometrists and their staff
- Pharmacists and Pharmacy Aides
- Home care workers
- Hospice workers
- Staff of nursing homes/skilled nursing facilities who did not receive COVID vaccination through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program
Following vaccinations for the health care sector, New York will move to Phase 1B which will include:
- Teachers and education workers
- First responders
- Public safety workers
- Public transit workers
- People 75 and older
It is anticipated that further phases will include adults with underlying health conditions, those over age 65, and then move to the general population. “As one can imagine, it will take considerable time to get enough vaccine to vaccinate such large numbers of people,” said Schuyler. “Local governments, including health departments, have no ability to stray from the state’s phased distribution plan.”
In Chautauqua County, the state began with distribution of vaccine to hospitals to vaccinate their health care workers and also outside persons in the state’s Phase 1A group. Hospitals have worked diligently to achieve this goal and while most have been able to vaccinate their staff, some have fallen short in vaccinating outside populations. “Hospitals were required by NYS to do something that most do not know how to do or have the capacity to do,” said Schuyler. “With CDC funding that has been passed through the state health department to local health departments, public health emergency preparedness pandemic planning and training have been in place for decades. Even though public health is best poised to vaccinate in a pandemic, our plans were shelved and hospitals, whose priority is to care for patients, were given the task of vaccinating in the first phase or face fines.”
Hospitals in Chautauqua County have succeeded in holding some vaccination clinics for outside persons in priority groups and have also redistributed vaccine to the Chautauqua County Health Department. This partnership has enabled the County to implement its point of dispensing (POD) plans and begin bigger vaccination efforts. “The state now appears to be realizing that increased partnership and communication with localities is key to getting our populations vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Schuyler.
The County Health Department received its first shipment of 200 doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from NYS on January 5, 2021. This shipment, in combination with vaccine redistributed from the hospitals, allowed the Health Department to conduct a successful POD for those in Phase 1A on January 6 with another larger POD scheduled for January 9. Health Department staff is also actively working with administration of The Resource Center and NYS OPWDD to begin vaccinating its priority populations next week. Further PODs will be scheduled as vaccine becomes available and persons should refer to https://chqgov.com/public-health/covid-19-vaccine-information for updates.
Vaccine clinics are not new for the Health Department, who routinely conducts community immunization and rabies clinics and held H1N1 influenza POD clinics in 2009. As vaccine becomes available, the Health Department plans to have multiple PODs at various locations throughout the county.
Healthcare providers registered with the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program will be able to order and receive COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. The expansion of providers able to vaccinate will greatly increase the distribution of vaccine to the public when it is permitted under the state’s plan.
Mass vaccination in a pandemic requires close collaboration between public health, external agencies and community partners. “We are blessed to have such close collaboration in Chautauqua County,” added Schuyler.
Governor Cuomo established 10 regional task forces in the state led by health systems to support and ensure the equitable distribution and administration of vaccine in NYS. Chautauqua County is part of the Western New York regional vaccination network hub that covers Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties. The WNY hub is led by representatives from Catholic Health, Erie County Medical Center and the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The regional implementation plans are due to the Governor on January 8 and should be made available to the public by the state once they are approved.
Stop the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask; maintain a social distance of 6 feet; wash your hands often.