Advocates for disabled concerned over vaccine rollout

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As population groups across the state work to make sure that those needing the COVID-19 vaccine receive both doses in the two-dose vaccine course, disagreements and conversations are arising among stakeholders, lawmakers and community interest groups.

This, demonstrated in one recent exchange involving the direct care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In a recent letter from The Arc of New York (which is the parent organization that represents the local The Arc of Oneida-Lewis), New York State Industries for the Disabled and related groups to the Governor’s office, the authors voiced concerns for what they believe were inequities in vaccine roll out of stages 1A and 1B and how they impact direct care communities serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“... with Executive Order 202.91 and the subsequent letter from (the state Department of Health) on January 23rd articulating a proportionality-based vaccine distribution plan until vaccine supply increases overall, we are alarmed that people with I/DD in certified residential settings, the direct care staff who support people with I/DD, and others with disabilities in 1A are conspicuously absent. … Most alarmingly, we also want to advise you that in some cases we have had second dose appointments canceled and have not been able to reschedule those vaccinations...” a portion of the letter reads.

“Collectively, it’s been a nightmare trying to get vaccines in the arms of New Yorkers,” said Tom McAlvanah on Wednesday. McAlvanah is president of New York Disability Advocates, a statewide collection of regional advocacy groups that speak out for the community that serves people with developmental disabilities.

McAlvanah is one of the letter’s authors, and he emphasized they are not shy in their advocacy efforts.

He said that at the time of the writing of the letter, communications from the state had left him and his colleagues questioning whether the vulnerable population group they serve was being prioritized in the initial rounds of the vaccination disbursement.

Reaction

The Jan. 25 letter has been addressed by state entities who note that efforts are being made to ensure everyone gets all doses.

“We are all working to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as quickly as possible, and Governor (Andrew) Cuomo prioritized individuals with developmental disabilities who live in congregate care settings in Phase 1A because they are at higher risk from COVID. Any supply issues can be traced directly to the Trump Administration cutting our allocation — not the state’s mass vaccination sites — and with the Biden Administration increasing our allocation, we will continue to vaccinate this vulnerable population,” said Jill Montag, a state Department of Health spokeswoman, in a statement.

Further, in a COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Cuomo noted the logistics taking place between state and federal efforts to ensure everyone gets both doses of the vaccine.

“For people who took their first dose, you will get the second dose. The federal government protects that second dose allocation ... (In the state shipments) … you will get your second dose. And if you have a scheduled appointment, that appointment will be fulfilled from the allocation that we’re receiving this week. But we are going week to week in terms of the allocation…” Cuomo said in Monday remarks.

In Oneida County

McAlvanah and others also noted that the vaccine disbursement scenario is differing across the state.

In Oneida County, Karen Korotzer, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of Oneida-Lewis, detailed that agency’s experience with the vaccine roll-out in a statement, saying, “We originally started to have a few challenges with getting vaccine appointments to be scheduled earlier than March. However, we recently worked with CVS to have a clinic in one of our day habilitation locations, and they have been great. This on-site vaccination has been working for us much better than trying to get people to hospital locations.”

More on vaccine disbursement

In a separate but somewhat related issue, state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, is calling on federal representatives to follow the proper safety and clinical trial protocols for the COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of demand, in a letter he penned to the state’s congressional delegation.

Griffo’s letter comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance to indicate that the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine can be scheduled up to six weeks after the first dose if necessary, according to a statement.

Previously, both pharmaceutical companies, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, have said that second doses should be given at specific intervals – 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna, according to a release.

“Clinical tests have indicated that both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines must be received within a certain amount of time. If we are following science and medicine, then we should adhere to the recommendations established by the entities that have conducted the trials and done the research,” Griffo said in a portion of a statement.

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