RENSSELAER COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Governor Cuomo’s Saturday executive order set the already strict rules for COVID vaccine distributors into law — hospitals to focus on health care workers, counties on essential workers, and pharmacies on seniors. However, more rural communities like Rensselaer County get at least a bit of a necessary exception.
“We were surprised that we were told one day not to vaccinate seniors, and then the next day we were told here is an allotment to do seniors. So we do the best we can with what’s being given to us,” says Rensselaer County Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas.
Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin says his county doesn’t have enough pharmacies and too many remote areas to reach the entire senior population. He and Wachunas confirm the health department received 1,200 doses last week and just got another 2,900 doses this week for the county-run pods to fill the gap. However, McLaughlin says there are around 30,000 to 40,000 people in Rensselaer County currently eligible.
“Planning for this is a big strain on my staff for the fact that we don’t know what our plan is until Sunday afternoon,” Wachunas says.
“My colleagues and I, really refer to it as the Amazing Race, ya know? We find out from the state on the weekend, yes we are getting confirmed doses, but it’s still like a secret, because we don’t want to set up appointments until we get an actual physical confirmation and see the doses. There have been some cases where it didn’t get shipped correctly and we had to delay it,” says Pharmacist and Owner of Young’s Pharmacy Miller Young. “It really becomes like a mad dash to get people in.”
Unfortunately, a flood of requests forced them to shut down appointment links. A post to the county Facebook page advised the community of the deactivated web portal, and asks residents to call the Department for the Aging to instead be added to the county wait list.
“If everybody rushes the gate the second that we open up the link to sign up, all it’s going to do is crash and crash and crash. If 10,000 people call our phones at the same time, then our circuits are going to melt. People are registering, in some cases 10 times for a shot, so it’s creating chaos in the system,” McLaughlin explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“I understand that we live in an Amazon world where you order something, it’s on your porch the next day. We don’t have 30,000 shots to give. Nobody does, so all we can do is work our way through our list,” McLaughlin goes on to say.
“We have a dedicated phonebank downstairs in our health department for seniors calling in and asking for help,” Wachunas adds.
Meanwhile, those small pharmacies that have their own allotments also have their own lists, but are also trying to meet people where they’re at. Young set up a pop-up clinic at the Summit Senior Living Facility on Wednesday afternoon.
“Our facility at Young’s Pharmacy is a little small, so we don’t have enough space to do as many patients as we would like. So this is a good way to hit as many arms as we can,” he explains.
The faculty at Summit also wanted to eliminate as many barriers as possible for their seniors. Wednesday’s clinic will vaccinate more than 90 percent of residents at the Glenwyck and Mill Hill locations.
“The paperwork involved and the registration isn’t always easy for an individual who is not tech savvy. While we certainly could have said, well it’s independent living, and taken a step back, we know how vital this is,” says Jennifer Nelligan, the Summit Senior Living Director of Sales and Marketing.
“You know, the moral of the story is just community helping community and just helping each other out,” Young says.
He adds Young’s Pharmacy is also working with the West Sand Lake and Averill Park firehouses to set up clinics.
To be added to the Rensselaer County vaccination waitlist, call the Department for the Aging at 518-270-2730.