Frustration over New York’s coronavirus vaccine rollout continues to dominate discussion at the municipal level. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports on Tuesday night’s city council meeting in Saratoga Springs…
There are limited places to receive a vaccine in Saratoga County. No pharmacies in the county have available vaccine. And the closest mass vaccination sites for those in New York’s Group 1B are in neighboring counties – like the state vaccination site that opened last week at the University at Albany, and SUNY Schenectady, which will host a vaccination site beginning January 25th.
Hospital workers and other frontline health professionals in group 1A have received vaccine in the hospital setting. Doses were also distributed to nursing homes. The county's public health department has been able to distribute its share of vaccine to authoritzed first responders, educators, public transit, front-facing grocery store workers, and some others.
That means those over 65 and others in group 1B must travel.
Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton is among officials continuing to receive calls from constituents trying to find a vaccine as appointments are booked out several weeks ahead.
“Even if they could travel, it’s like…virtually impossible and so I just…It’s a whole demographic of people, I just don’t know what to tell them,” said Dalton.
The lack of access, an unstable state website, and an uncertainty over how much vaccine will actually be made available has officials taking steps on their own time to try to find answers.
Mayor Meg Kelly explained how she’s been trying to assist seniors.
“I took a list of 80-plus-year-olds. And I ask them their name and their birthdate. And I sit up there – like you, Commissioner Dalton, at 2 in the morning – and we book. I book appointments. Then, they don’t have an internet connection or even know what a computer is, so I have to print out the forms and I drive them out to their house. And then we have to get them transportation to the site,” said Kelly.
On Tuesday, Saratoga Springs county supervisor Tara Gaston, who chairs the county Board of Supervisors’ Health and Human Services Committee, updated the city council on steps taken by the county board just hours before.
“Our goal is to be as flexible and creative as possible to make sure that we get people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Gaston.
Gaston said that the county voted on its agreement with the Saratoga Springs City Center to make the space available as a mass vaccination hub – though at the moment it does not appear there is enough supply to do so.
The county also voted Tuesday to hire people to operate a call center to field questions from the public on the vaccine.
“So this will be staffed with hires from the county in order to answer those questions and in order to ideally assist with a new plan that we are working on vetting through the state and getting permission that will allow us to operate a list system. Currently, we have been directed by the New York State Department of Health that we are not allowed to accept appointments outside of the system that they have put forward,” said Gaston.
The move is similar to the vaccine hotline unrolled in Montgomery County last week, which complements an online survey the county is using to identify eligible individuals for the vaccine.
Saratoga County had developed a plan to begin bringing doses to homebound seniors this week through the county sheriff’s department. The plan, however, was halted by a state directive.
“However, because of this directive which came out after 5 p.m. on Friday, we are no longer allowed to do that,” said Gaston.
The idea was similar to an effort in Albany County, which announced this month a partnership to deliver vaccines through Mohawk Ambulance.
Additionally, the Saratoga County website has been updated to provide all COVID-19-related information on the home page. Gaston said that the county is also working with a company to update and improve the county’s coronavirus dashboard.