The Ulster County executive is calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to activate a joint state- and county-run COVID-19 vaccination site in Kingston. He says the site has the capacity, and the closest state sites are not close at all. As WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports, others are echoing the call.
Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan says his county is not getting its fair share of vaccines.
“So, vaccine distribution is maddeningly and frustratingly slow right now. We are not getting the supply that we need. I’ve been increasingly vocal and really, at this point, demanding more from the federal government and from the state government,” says Ryan. “We’ve seen a relative lower share in Ulster County than some of our neighbors in the region and in the state. And I, I think it’s critical that we get at, at least our fair share of what I know is a very limited supply.”
And during his February 18 COVID-19 briefing, Ryan updated residents on how he’s advocating to get more vaccine to the county.
“I did send a letter today directly to Governor Cuomo in following up in what was a really productive discussion that, that we had along with other county leaders earlier this week where, I think, in a very positive way, the governor offered to work with counties to set up joint county and state, so state, joint state and county vaccination sites,” says Ryan.
Ryan’s February 18 letter requests that the state immediately start up a joint vaccination site at the current county-led point of dispensing, or POD, site at the Kate Walton Field House at Kingston High School.
“And I’ve been really encouraged by the conversations I’ve been having with the governor and his team about this,” Ryan says. “I know that they are committed to doing this as soon as they can get more supply and get this going. So I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to make that happen.”
He says the site has the capacity to administer 50,000 vaccines a month.
“And that would mean, with our county population, that we could, we could get every single resident in the county vaccinated in a two-to-three-month time period,” says Ryan.
Ryan says it’s not feasible for many residents in his county, especially those in underserved communities, to travel to the nearest state sites in Albany or in Westchester County. Other residents are even driving hours to Utica, Syracuse and Plattsburgh.
“To give a sense of the scope of the problem, there are now 120,000 people eligible in Ulster County, on paper, but availability is the problem,” Ryan says. “We got 1,500 total doses in the entire county this week to meet that, to meet that demand. So 700 of those go to my health department to vaccinate essential workers and those with co-morbidities and seniors. The other 800 go directly to pharmacies.”
The 1,500 vaccines are the same number the county received the week prior. And that’s 120,000 residents eligible out of the county’s population of some 180,000. Ryan says broadening the eligibility list to residents with underlying health conditions is exacerbating the demand outweighing supply equation. In his county, this new eligibility adds about 50,000 residents.
On Thursday night, Governor Cuomo said the federal government informed the state that nearly all COVID-19 vaccine doses that were scheduled to be delivered between February 12th and February 21st are delayed due to the winter storms impacting much of the country. All doses that should have shipped on Monday were held back, and only a limited number of Pfizer vaccines left shipping facilities on Tuesday and Wednesday. Snow in the Hudson Valley resulted in many clinics being canceled Thursday and Friday. Republican state Senator Sue Serino’s 41st District contains most of Dutchess County and part of Putnam County.
“We get calls from people every single day. And now that it was opened up even further to the co-morbidities, there’s so many people that can’t get their vaccines,” says Serino. “I called to have a site here in the mid-Hudson Valley, I think it was January that I called for that. It’s been ignored. We need it.”
Serino, the ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, says many senior citizens are encountering problems signing up for the vaccine.
“Maybe seniors in their 70s are on the Internet, but somebody in their 80s, probably not, right, could be,” Serino says. “So we need a centralized appointment system, and I don’t understand how we don’t have that. We have world-class technology here, right. That should have been something that absolutely was put into place.”
Ryan also wants to see a centralized system.
“This kind of very confusing and disaggregated system is a problem. I know it’s making it hard for so many of our residents to have to navigate multiple different paths here," Ryan says. "I have and will continue to push to centralize this and make it easier and simpler for everyone, especially for seniors who are now having to go to different pharmacy sites or find different locations. We’re doing everything we can through our Office for the Aging and with our Recovery Service Center [845-443-8888] to help.”
Earlier this month, Serino introduced legislation with North Country Republican state Senator Dan Stec to require the state Department of Health to provide a comprehensive vaccination report to the public weekly. Serino says this would help address widespread confusion and frustration surrounding the vaccine rollout. The data would be organized by county, date, facility, age, race and ethnicity of vaccine recipients. The information posted would be retroactive to December 14, 2020.
The state Health Department site does have a vaccine tracker, posting distribution numbers by region, numbers of first and second doses received and administered, and vaccination progress by county.