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Vaccine Reaches Front Lines, but Supplies Still Limited

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 11:01
Jacqueline Smudzinski, a John M. Marshall Elementary School nurse, got her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
Wendy Geehreng

Due to a limited supply of Covid-19 vaccines, and the slower-than-expected pace of inoculating frontline health care workers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday that it would be at least a month before members of the general public can begin receiving vaccinations. 

The federal government approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in mid-December, and has been in charge of procuring allotments for each state. To be fully effective, the vaccines must be administered in two doses that are injected several weeks apart. 

New York has been receiving a weekly allotment of about 300,000 vaccine doses for the past three weeks, Governor Cuomo said, and, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommen-dations, the state has prioritized inoculating frontline health care workers and nursing home residents and staff. 

At Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, "we have successfully vaccinated more than 60 percent of our hospital staff with a first dose, and will start administering the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday," Dr. Fredric I. Weinbaum, the hospital's chief medical officer and chief operating officer, said on Tuesday. 

The list of those eligible for the vaccine in New York was expanded on Monday to include health care professionals at outpatient facilities including those who work at private medical, dental, and mental health practices, home health aides, optometrists, pharmacists, and physical therapists. 

East End school district superintendents reported that many of their schoolsÕ health employees, including nurses, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and physical therapists, are receiving first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine this week. Nurses in particular play a key role in maintaining health at school, usually taking studentsÕ temperatures in the mornings before the day starts and conducting much of the contact tracing taking place in schools.

Residents can use an app on the state's website to check eligibility. 

The nursing home vaccination program is being run by the federal government in partnership with national pharmacy chains. "That has not moved as quickly as we would like," Governor Cuomo said. "The state is now going to step in and expedite that program." The goal is to make sure all nursing home residents have received an initial shot within the next two weeks, he said. 

To provide inoculations to frontline health care workers, New York has thus far distributed about 900,000 vaccine doses to the state's 194 hospitals. That would provide one shot for fewer than half of the state's 2.1 million health care workers, he said. "The supply rate is the limiting factor now," the governor said. "We hope, pray, and expect that the supply from the federal government will be increasing."

The pace at which hospitals are administering the vaccine has also posed a problem. As of Monday, hospitals had only used about half of the vaccines allotted, said the governor, who blamed hospital bureaucracy for the delay. Some hospitals have been far more expeditious than others. The New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System has used 99 percent of its allotment. Northwell Health, which is coordinating the vaccine distribution effort on Long Island, has used 62 percent, but the Nassau University Medical Center has used just 19 percent. 

The state's Department of Health is now requiring that all health care providers use the entirety of their allotments within seven days of receiving them or face a possible $100,000 fine and disqualification from receiving future doses.

Before the state can further expand the list of those eligible to receive the vaccine, "we need another four weeks of allocations," the governor said. The next groups to become eligible will include members of police and fire departments, teachers, and members of the general public who are 75 or older. 

To prepare for more widespread vaccination, the state is arranging to have the vaccine administered for free at local pharmacies, health departments, private urgent care clinics and doctor's offices, and other health care centers, as well as at ad hoc sites. There will be 713 distribution centers on Long Island, according to Governor Cuomo's office. On Tuesday, in a partnership between Nassau County, Northwell Health, and the state, one such center was launched at Nassau Community College. When it is fully operational, the center will be able to vaccinate about 400 people a day, seven days a week, said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. 

Jason Molinet, a spokesman for Northwell Health, said a similar distribution hub would soon be set up in Suffolk County, and East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday that the town is preparing the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons building off Stephen Hand's Path for potential use as a vaccination site.

To prevent such centers from becoming overburdened, Governor Cuomo encouraged police and fire departments to oversee the vaccination of their members if they have the capacity to do so. 

Mr. Cuomo noted that the emergence of a more contagious strain of the virus, one which was first detected in the United Kingdom and found in a Covid patient in Saratoga Springs earlier this week, makes swift distribution of the vaccine much more urgent. "We are in a footrace right now between the vaccine implementation versus the infection rate and hospitalization capacity," he said. "Apparently, the U.K. strain can overtake the original Covid strain in a matter of weeks, that's how quickly it can transmit," he said. "This U.K. strain changes the whole foot race."  

With Reporting by Christine Sampson


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