While Putnam County ranks among the highest of regional counties in percentage of residents that have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, officials continue to lobby New York State to increase the county’s supply.
“We hear and share in the frustration and concerns of our residents, particularly those over age 65, who have not been able to secure vaccination appointments,” said Putnam Health Commissioner Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD. “We will continue to demand more vaccines for Putnam, so our pharmacies can also be better supplied for our seniors. I have personally reached out to the Governor’s office and will continue to advocate on behalf of the entire county.”
“We want school staff, essential workers, and those with underlying medical conditions to know that we are well-prepared to vaccinate a larger portion of our community,” he added. “We are hopeful that the vaccine supply will greatly increase so we can swiftly vaccinate all Putnam County residents who wish to be vaccinated.”
The state has authorized those in groups 1A and 1B eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has admitted that though shipments of the vaccine from the federal government have increased in recent weeks, the demand continues to outweigh the supply.
The 1B group currently consists of police, firefighters, public safety workers, educators, transit personnel, restaurant employees, drivers, grocery store workers, developmentally disabled facility personnel, those with certain comorbidities, and people 65 and up.
Health care workers and group living personnel, who have been eligible since the vaccine rolled out in December, are categorized as Phase 1A.
Health Department officials have reported that they dispensed all of the state-supplied doses within 48 hours of receiving them. As of Feb. 16, the department has administered 1,740 first doses and 907 second doses.
“Clearly we are capable of vaccinating more residents. We just need more vaccines to make that happen,” said Supervising Public Health Nurse Kathleen Percacciolo.
Of the seven regional counties, Putnam trails only Westchester with nearly 11% of its residents having been given the first dose of the vaccine. Westchester has reported 11.5% of its residents getting vaccinated. The New York State average is 10.17%.
“There are several reasons for the lack in vaccine availability,” Percacciolo said. “This week, on top of the supply and demand imbalance, the region is faced with the challenges of safely delivering temperature-controlled doses of vaccine during back-to-back winter storms. County and state officials have contingency plans in place for when weather or other circumstances may result in a delay in shipment. Because of these expected but unpredictable circumstances, PCDOH only schedules appointments when they have vaccine ‘in the refrigerator.’”
Putnam officials also said there has been some confusion about how and where people can make an appointment. In addition, some first dose shipments sent to local health departments have been specifically designed by the state for targeted populations, such as individuals affiliated with the Office for People with Development Disabilities.
“We understand that the entire process of scheduling a vaccine is frustrating for people. We are too,” said County Executive MaryEllen Odell. “We see the eligibility groups expand, but the supply doesn’t meet the demand still. That absolutely must change. We are also asking the state to increase the supply available to our pharmacies and healthcare providers so that our residents age 65 and over can more easily access appointments. They should not have to travel or search for a vaccine provider.”
The Health Department has confirmed that there will be more providers in Putnam to facilitate vaccination of residents with comorbidities.