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Hudson Valley Lawmakers Press For Permanent Vaccination Sites

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

Several lawmakers in the Hudson Valley are urging New York state officials to set up joint COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites closer to home. Local leaders in the region have repeatedly said traveling to the closest state sites is too far for many mid-Hudson region residents. 

Democratic state Senators Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and James Skoufis, along with Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, announced on Monday that they have introduced legislation that would require the state Department of Health to open state-run vaccine clinics in certain communities, including in Rockland and Orange Counties. Reichlin-Melnick’s 38th District includes most of Rockland County and part of Westchester.

“So the bill we introduced calls for the state to open a mass vaccination site in any county of the state with at least 300,000 people. Currently, every such county that’s that size already has one except for two counties in New York, and that’s Orange and Rockland County,” says Reichlin-Melnick. “Rockland is the eighth largest county in the state. Orange County is the seventh largest county in the state, and yet there is no state-run facility where residents of these counties can go to get their vaccines.”

The closest state-run sites are in lower Westchester County and in Albany, which are not that close. New York has increased the number of pop-up or temporary vaccination sites. State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill wrote a letter with fellow Democrat Senator Michelle Hinchey to Governor Andrew Cuomo over the weekend, asking that a state-run site be set up in Ulster County, where the county has a point of dispensing, or POD, site that’s been up and running for a while at the Kate Walton Field House at Kingston High School. Here’s Cahill:

“I think it’s time for us to have more available sites. It’s no longer just a question of is there enough vaccine,” Cahill says. “Now, it really is about is it easy enough to get there, is it convenient enough for people to get there, particularly those folks who have limited transportation options.”

His letter follows one Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan sent in mid-February asking that the state start up a joint vaccination site at the Kingston locale. Cahill says that with President Biden’s aggressive vaccination plan and shortages being alleviated by the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, setting up more permanent, convenient sites makes sense. Republican State Senator Sue Serino sent a bipartisan letter Tuesday, asking the state to immediately partner with Dutchess County for a joint COVID vaccination distribution site at the former JCPenney store at the Poughkeepsie Galleria. It’s one of Dutchess County’s POD sites. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro wrote a similar letter in February.

“We haven’t gotten an answer yet, but I will say to both the federal government and the state government’s credit, this week we are seeing a substantial increase in doses being made available to us. Last week, Dutchess County had 1,200 doses to the Health Department. This week we have 4,000. And I will say that they’ve been responsive to our requests to get at least incremental increases,” Molinaro says. “We believe, though, that a larger location in most counties where you can centralize the delivery and coordinate then those pop-ups, like a spoke-and-hub kind of relationship, makes sense in every county in the state of New York that can support one.”

Molinaro announced during his Wednesday COVID briefing that Marist College would host a pop-up vaccination site, in partnership with the state. On Thursday, Governor Cuomo announced the Marist site and two others upstate, as short-term mass vaccination sites; each will administer 3,500 Johnson & Johnson vaccines beginning Friday. Serino says the Marist site is a start but she still wants a more permanent site in the area. Again, Reichlin-Melnick:

“So, so we’ve already done letters. I think that’s why. We’ve  done letters. I sent a letter with Assemblyman Zebrowski and Assemblyman Lawler back in January asking the Department of Health and the governor’s office to work to put a mass vaccination site in Rockland. There’s been no action,” Reichlin-Melnick says. “I’ve been on the phone and my staff have been on the phone with the DOH and the governor’s office on at least a weekly basis explaining how much of an issue this is for seniors and other residents of the county. And we’re more than two months into the vaccine rollout now, and I figured it was time to try something different and maybe get some attention.”

Rockland and Orange Counties are west of the Hudson River.

“There is no vaccination site west of the Hudson River until you get to Albany or Binghamton,” Reichlin-Melnick says.

Permanent sites, that is. He says conversations with the state are ongoing about using Rockland Community College as a site.

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