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Mid-Hudson Task Force Members Discuss Vaccine Distribution Plan

Colleen Laico, from Kingston, NY, a medical professional at the ER at Kingston Hospital, receives her COVID-19 vaccination at MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, December 18, 2020
Courtesy of the Office of Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan
Colleen Laico, from Kingston, NY, a medical professional at the ER at Kingston Hospital, receives her COVID-19 vaccination at MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, December 18, 2020

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced the formation of Regional Vaccination Hubs to help facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations once Phase 2 of the state's plan begins in early 2021. Regional task forces are part of the process. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne spoke with a few county leaders who are on the Mid-Hudson region’s task force.

The Regional Vaccination Hubs are led by local hospital systems, and will work with community leaders to develop regional vaccination networks to guide administration once enough doses are in hand to start the next phase. For the Mid-Hudson region, Westchester Medical Center is the regional hub coordinator. The regional task forces will develop a distribution plan with local governments and other providers. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is on his region’s task force.

“And we have about a week-and-a-half to develop the outreach effort to actually administer vaccine more broadly,” says Molinaro.

Under the state's plan, the second phase of administrations will be focused on essential workers and individuals in the general public who are most at risk. This week, nursing home staff and residents are receiving the vaccine. Again, Molinaro.

“That’s all to be done through a hub-and-spoke model. So the average resident should have access to the vaccine in a more accessible way, and county governments, as we’ve been told so far, will play a critical role in communicating an educating about the vaccine, but also to be sure that we’re reaching out to underserved populations,” Molinaro says. “And those underserved populations may well be Black and Brown communities; they’re likely to be poorer communities; and they’re also going to be neighborhoods and communities that don’t have ready access to a healthcare provider where these healthcare deserts exist, and they exist throughout the state and certainly in our region, and those are the key roles that the counties are going to play in the process, as we understand it, moving forward.”

Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan also serves on the task force.

“I think the key here that we’re focused on is that this is going to be the most complex logistical undertaking that any of us have, I think, have executed. And so I’m leaning back on some of frankly, my military planning experience as well  to make sure that we get every single detail right, that we distribute the vaccines safely and quickly and equitably,” Ryan says. “And I think our counties and our health departments are going to have a really important part in all that, but especially the equity part, where we want to make sure that communities that are often, have access challenges or are underserved are able to fairly get access to this critical vaccine.”

Stephen Acquario is executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, or NYSAC.

“The county executive and the health commissioner of Dutchess County needs to be at the same level of information, data and analysis as the hospital system in Westchester, who is the hub,” Acquario says.

He says there should be transparency about where the vaccine is coming from and who is getting it along with information about shipments and distribution.

“And if the county does not have that information, it’s going to cause further confusion, and we’re starting to see that now, that the local health commissioners are not at that level, at that table where they need to have access to information in real time so that they can better educate the medical community who then, in turn, can better educate the public when it’s going to be their turn to receive a vaccine,” says Acquario.

“So then, County Eecutive Molinaro, is that something that you could incorporate into the plan, or is that above and beyond?” Dunne asks.

“Again, we only know that we have to start meeting and develop the plan, so we’re hopeful that some of these issues can be confronted in the work of these regional task forces. I will say that we are asking to have more information more readily available to county governments, even if we don’t, if we’re not playing the specific role that we expect at any given time, just having greater access to the information, the data is going to be necessary,” says Molinaro. “And, again, all of this can happen, but we’re obviously hoping that it does happen.”

Ulster County Executive Ryan was in Dutchess County last week witnessing the first healthcare professionals from his county receive the vaccine.

“Last Friday, I was able to watch some of our ER nurses get the vaccine, and it was, it was really powerful,” Ryan says.

He explains why healthcare workers from Ulster had to go to Westchester Medical Center Health Network’s MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie.

“Because of, especially the Pfizer vaccine requiring very specific handling and deep-freezing, the only facility in the surrounding counties that physically was able to store those was at MidHudson Regional in Poughkeepsie,” says Ryan. “So we actually had our healthcare workers travelling there to receive the vaccine. That will obviously change as we get into the follow-on phases.”

Cuomo says all regional implementation plans must be submitted to the state by the first week of January to ensure they are in place and ready to be activated once enough doses of the vaccine are in hand to begin Phase 2 in late January.

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