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Gillibrand's Bill Would Help Vaccine Distribution; Rockland Receives Vaccine Doses

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Pat Bradley/WAMC

New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has announced her first bill for the new session of Congress, and it aims to speed up the country’s lagging vaccine distribution. Meantime, Rockland County received its first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning and began administering it to county healthcare workers Tuesday afternoon.

Senator Gillibrand says she is reintroducing her Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act.

“This bill would invest billions of dollars into local public health infrastructure and recruit, train and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans to support vaccine communication, distribution and administration efforts in their own communities, with a particular focus on underserved communities,” Gillibrand says.

The Democrat says the bill would help create jobs where they are needed most and bolster an overstretched public health system with local public health workers.

“The Health Force would create a new pipeline to health careers, improving diversity in the field,” says Gillibrand. “And, when this crisis finally ends, Health Force workers will be retained to continue addressing community and public health issues, like opioid addition, nutrition, mental health and more.”

Health Force is inspired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which tapped thousands of job seekers to help the nation recover from a sharp economic downturn. Gillibrand spells out the cost for her plan, saying it would have long-term dividends and pay for itself.

“Because we’re in a pandemic, we have estimated that we will invest $40 billion each year for the first two years,” says Gillibrand. “And that, in and of itself, would be an investment just to get this epidemic under control.”

Democratic Congressman Antonio Delgado of the 19th District took to Facebook Monday with a pre-recorded State of the District address. He says the first order of business in the new Congress is to confront the pandemic and vaccine distribution.

“While the vaccine rollout in New York and across the country has gotten off to a slower than anticipated start, I’m confident that our state and our country will continue to accelerate the rate of vaccinations in the coming months,” Delgado said. “To that end, it is imperative that Congress provides more funding for state and local governments to support those on the ground doing the heavy lifting of coordinating the vaccine’s distribution.”

Gillibrand says her legislation would bring needed reinforcements to health workers, especially if there’s another COVID spike following the holidays. And COVID tracing, testing and response have pushed counties and their health departments to their limits while healthcare centers and hospitals are strained from vaccination efforts.

“Current CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] numbers show that of the 13 million vaccines distributed nationwide, only 4.2 million have been given to the American people. Those numbers fall far short of the Trump Administration’s goal to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020,” says Gillibrand. “In New York, less than 275,000 of the nearly 900,000 doses that the state has received have been used. That’s less than one in three available doses.”

Meantime, Rockland County received its first shipment of 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Calling it an extremely positive development, Rockland Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert says her department will begin vaccinatingindividuals eligible under New York’s Phased Vaccination program

“So, it’s excellent to now have the vaccine on hand and be able to supplement the other vaccination efforts that are already under way,” Ruppert says. “Providing vaccinations to our clinical staff who will, in turn, vaccinate other eligible individuals is the very beginning of the end of this pandemic.”

She emphasized that the vaccine distribution plan was created and is managed by the state, and that residents cannot register by calling the county health department. Ruppert says her office is fielding a large amount of calls on this.

“Vaccination will now be an everyday occurrence at the Rockland County Department of Health, pending continued vaccine delivery from New York state,” Ruppert says.

She then laid out the process for registration through a state site and walked through the steps of getting the vaccine and what to expect.

“We are very prepared to do what is needed to be done, and we are very happy that we now have the vaccine in hand to be able to administer it,” says Ruppert. “This is what we do in public health, this is what we do, and we do it very well.”

Ruppert says the person must receive first and second doses at the same location. Following her announcement, members of the county Department of Health staff who are eligible to be vaccinated received their first dose of the vaccine.

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