CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Just as millions of New Yorkers got the green light to get their COVID vaccines, now many say they’re losing their appointments.
“You should never have added seven million people without any kind of assurance that you would get seven million doses, right? Because now you have people competing for this like it’s the Hunger Games,” comments Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin.
Counties, hospitals, and pharmacies all got new directions from New York State limiting who they can vaccinate as supply comes close to running out. Even though those in the 1B category are technically eligible, distributors have now been ordered to only focus on 1A groups — hospitals on health care workers, counties on emergency responders, and pharmacies on those over the age of 75.
“The state’s been very clear with us about who we are supposed to be vaccinating, and we can’t deviate from that,” says Schenectady County Public Health Interim Director Keith Brown.
“Philosophically, I don’t think it’s wrong to open it up, but only if you have the supply to back that up. I think the term ‘eligible for’ is the thing that people are really stuck on, because usually when someone says you’re eligible to receive some thing, it indicates there’s some availability. It’s really the fact that the availability doesn’t match the eligibility,” he continues.
“It just doesn’t need to be this confusing and the supply is one thing, the changing rules and the confusion that is being introduced by New York State, that is a whole different issue,” adds McLaughlin.
Under the threat of state penalties, counties and hospitals had to send out notices canceling thousands of appointments.
“We had scheduled out two, three weeks in advance, people for their appointments. The vaccine distribution has slowed down, so as a result of that we’ve had to tell those scheduled we don’t have vaccine this week,” explains Dr. Dennis McKenna, CEO of Albany Med, of the notices that were sent out by Capital Region Hub of the Regional Vaccine Network.
“This isn’t us as a local health department making these determinations of who we think is more deserving or more at risk. We are following the directions from the state, and we are in a situation where, people who we may totally believe would be appropriate under 1B and they might have lots of high risk factors, that we can’t administer to them,” Brown explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
McLaughlin adds his district is additionally burdened by low allotments, with only 100 doses each for the first two weeks of distribution and 300 last week, for a total 500 doses.
“I don’t expect to get as many as Albany County, they are twice the size of us. What I would not expect is to get only 20 percent of what Albany County is getting either. It should be proportionate to what your population is,” he says.
“We are going to get our fair share, and I demand that as a county executive, as I should and as any other county executive would.”
He further questions why out of 17,500 doses allotted to the Capital Region, around 9500 were immediately directed only to the state-run SUNY Albany site.
“Get the shots into the arms of people who are equipped to distribute it and especially to those folks on the outskirts of our counties who can’t drive that distance. Why aren’t we getting it as close to them as we possibly can?” asks McLaughlin.
“We know there has been a real disparity in the equal access to resources for Black, indigenous, and minority people of color, and so there’s a real concern there that we want to reach those communities and set up our hubs where they are fair and equitable,” says Brown. “We also don’t want to further their mistrust of the system.”
The counties say for now, they’re trying to reach those on their wait lists.
“We began working our way, emailing out to those folks; however, two thirds of the shots were grabbed by people in other parts of the state,” says McLaughlin.
“People from anywhere and everywhere — whoever has the quickest fingers grabs these spots. It’s quite frankly moronic to have people running around the state of New York, especially when there are those elderly limited in their mobility, trying to get shots,” he continues.
“Those links we were using have gotten out there and people have figured out a workaround or a hack to it that it spread like wild fire on social media or direct person to person, so lots of people have signed up not through official means,” explains Brown.
“That is not a problem specific to our county, but we’ve now had to take more of direct control over that. So we are in fact registering people right now for those appointments directly. Working with the municipal essential workforce and other providers to make sure we’re getting the right people in there,” Brown continues.
Dr. McKenna says if you did have an appointment canceled through the Regional Vaccine Network, they’re working to keep those affected in the system for a quick resolution.
“As soon as more [doses] come in, we’ll get them rescheduled and taken care of,” he says.
For those eligible but waiting, they can only repeat — please be patient.
“We have people that are 30, 40 years old that are trying to sign up. I hate to say it, if you’re relatively young an healthy, you don’t need this shot right now. I know people don’t want to hear that, but the reality is we just don’t have enough. They can wait,” says McLaughlin.
“People need to be patient, people need to be a little selfless here, and really think about whether they’re in a high risk category. People with the means and accessibility to get on a computer and find creative workarounds to our systems are taking up resources that really need to be devoted to those we’re required to do right now. We need to protect those people who contribute to keeping our essential functions intact,” says Brown.