If you've read this column before, you can probably imagine how overwhelmed my office has been with questions regarding the Covid-19 vaccine in the past month or two. This is why I tried recently in this space to spend some time talking about the vaccine itself in December and its safety profile, efficacy, and need.
This week, however, I'd like to review the practical side of the actual vaccine roll-out, particularly here on the East End of Long Island. I know from talking to many patients that there are a number of questions as to why we haven't yet been able to vaccinate people in the 1b designation recently, when health care providers expect to do so, and what has been taking so long.
First, a review of who is eligible in New York state right now to even receive the vaccine: As of this writing, individuals in groups 1a and 1b are eligible, which means frontline healthcare workers in hospitals, offices, nursing homes, and the like (all in group 1a); individuals 65 and older (group 1b); and responders and support staff of first responder agencies, police departments, public safety communicators, staff in schools and childcare agencies, public transit, and certain other high-risk groups (also group 1b).
All of which is well and good, particularly as many schools and health care groups have been able to arrange vaccinations for their frontline workers at local hospitals, but those hospital systems are only allowed by the Department of Health to vaccinate those individuals in these groups, not high risk members of the general public like those over 65. Accordingly, many individuals in group 1b have not been able to find anywhere closer than New York City to schedule and receive the vaccine.
And that has led to considerable confusion and many, many phone calls.
The reason why your local doctor (and certainly my office) may not have any information regarding when the vaccine will be available is because designation of distribution sites and delivery of the vaccine, while under normal vaccination efforts are generally left up to local medical groups and hospital systems and town health officials, are currently completely under the oversight of the New York State and county departments of health.
This means the state is working with the counties to determine the best way to distribute limited resources, as each state is only getting a certain amount of the vaccine at a time according to reports from the governor's office. Just this weekend, Gov. Cuomo announced that New York State has only received a little over 1.3 million doses from the federal government over a six-week period. Particularly for a state as large and complex as New York, the pressure to distribute equally and effectively has to be enormous and very difficult.
In order to meet this need, the state and local departments of health are determining the best sites for vaccine distribution, information about that can be found online at on.ny.gov/36fzxrc.
To date, the closest state distribution site for Suffolk County is Stony Brook University Hospital itself. Suffolk County's Covid-19 Vaccine website states that the county is working with Northwell Health to determine more vaccine distribution sites at the local level, although review of the Northwell Health website does not appear to indicate any such sites have been designated as of Monday. I do recommend reviewing the Suffolk County website suffolkcountyny.gov/vaccine regularly, however, to look for updates, as it should reflect the most up to date information in this regard.
In the meantime, what can you do? Be patient with your local doctors as we work to navigate this vaccine rollout ourselves. As we learn information from the state, county, and the Department of Health, we will share it as we can, but sometimes we simply may not know. The fact that we have been able to vaccinate so many frontline workers is already a great success, as they bear the brunt of risk in terms of day-to-day interaction with potential cases of Covid-19. Everyone else who can stay home and stay safe through masks and social distancing should continue to do so. We know that these protocols work and will continue to do so until the point when everyone has been vaccinated, developed immunity, and the restrictions can safely be lifted.
Joshua Potter, D.O., a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice, oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. He specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.