The same day that the targeted vaccination center opened in Albany, the county leaders of Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady Counties gathered to encourage the public to seek a vaccine, and also aired some shared frustrations.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy shared the stage Wednesday with Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman, a fellow Democrat, and Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, a Republican.
“The three of us have left our egos at the door, we don’t get into the political arena, we don’t get into anything else…it’s about getting vaccine in people’s arms,” said McCoy.
The Washington Avenue Armory, through a partnership between New York State and FEMA, began its goal of administering 1,000 vaccine doses per day for eligible residents of underserved zip codes in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. Beginning next week, the site will open to the wider public.
The county leaders appeared to show unity and to encourage people to sign up. Though vaccinations have been ongoing for weeks, the leaders recognized the frustration felt by so many about the slow rollout.
“It’s the same story of just not enough vaccine the first 10 weeks, but now that we’re getting closer to production, nationally, getting to the states, getting to federal EMO sites, there’s more for us to have,” said Fluman.
The county leaders spoke as the state legislature prepares to remove Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers, as the Democratic governor faces intense scrutiny over his handling of the state’s COVID-related nursing home deaths and new allegations of sexual harassment.
McLaughlin, a former state Assemblyman who has repeatedly called on Cuomo to resign and often takes to social media to insult officials of the opposing party, was asked about the deal being brokered to remove the governor’s pandemic powers and how it may affect counties’ abilities to respond to the COVID crisis.
The Republican said he had not studied the framework, but added…
“I think any latitude we get in the administration of vaccines is nothing but positive for the people of this region. I don’t want to go too off-topic, but I will say any latitude we can get… we’re going to make the best use of that,” said McLaughlin.
McCoy also had complaints about the state’s rollout process, and about what specific groups and sectors are being made eligible, while other workers are left waiting. Albany County has been operating its own vaccination POD at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“We need to get approval, and we need to – and I’m going to advocate, or have been advocating – for our workforce,” said McCoy. “This is crazy that all these other people are falling into line, but yet I can’t get vaccine for my public defenders. I can’t get vaccine for my DSS workers…”
Fluman said all frustrations go back to national shortage – a problem also seen early on with available PPE and coronavirus tests. With the recent announcement of the approval of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine and President Biden’s belief that enough vaccine will be produced for every American by the end of May, Fluman is hopeful.
“I think the message today is we are so very close to having almost too much vaccine, so these issues of what we can and cannot do, will almost be irrelevant in the next 30 days because we’re really close to being able to vaccinate anyone we need because of supply,” said Fluman.
The leaders were also asked about the racial disparity in vaccine distribution, a problem across the state. McLaughlin suggested the fact that an overwhelming majority of those to receive the vaccine so far are white can be attributed to the state’s restrictions on who can receive a shot.
“As this becomes more widespread, available and there’s less silos or restrictions on who we can vaccinate, you should see those numbers be exactly indicative of society,” said McLaughlin.
Recognizing hesitancy among minority groups, McCoy pointed to Albany County’s public service announcement campaign designed to encourage vaccination signups among Black and brown communities. McCoy is planning to make an announcement regarding vaccine distribution with County Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce on Friday.