Dose shortage continues to plague area vaccine rollout

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There are signs the post-holiday surge of new COVID-19 cases in Oneida County and across New York has subsided, but the vaccination campaign thought to be the best way to end the pandemic continues to face a limited supply of doses and contention over how they are allocated.

Oneida County on Wednesday reported 166 new test-confirmed cases in the 24 hours that ended at midnight on Tuesday, continuing a general trend downward from a peak of 364 reported Jan. 1. The new number left 7,175 known active cases in the county.

However, five COVID-related deaths were reported, for 303 since the pandemic began. Two of the deaths were nursing home-related, according to the county.

The county’s rate of tests that indicate COVID-19 stood at 6.9% a day averaged over the previous seven days as of Wednesday, according to the state monitoring dashboard.

Hospitalizations in the six-county Mohawk Valley region stood at 25% of bed capacity and 24% of intensive-care unit capacity, unchanged from the day before. The region’s positive-test rate was 7.7% on a weekly basis.

As a percentage of the region’s total population, the Mohawk Valley’s hospitalization rate was tied for highest in the state with that of the Rochester-based Finger Lakes and Long Island at 0.06%, according to a chart Gov. Andrew Cuomo displayed during his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday afternoon.

The county reported on Wednesday that 151 county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 20 at Rome Memorial Hospital, 118 in the Mohawk Valley Health System hospitals, and 13 outside the county.

The county government announced receiving 500 doses of vaccine from the state on Wednesday, which will be used to schedule appointments at the two county-run vaccination sites, at county-owned Griffiss International Airport in Rome, and the Utica campus of Mohawk Valley Community College.

After those doses are spoken for by appointments, no more appointments will be scheduled until more doses come from the state, the county announced. Under the current shipping schedule, the earliest new appointments at the two county-run sites would be next Wednesday, Jan. 27.

The county reported Wednesday that on Tuesday, 135 new doses were given at Griffiss and 288 at MVCC, for 3,824 vaccinations so far, or 92% of doses allocated to the county.

Rome Memorial has given 2,781 total doses, and the Mohawk Valley Health System 6,546, according to the county.

At a Wednesday afternoon media briefing via Zoom, Cuomo sought to explain how COVID-19 vaccine doses New York state receives from the federal government are allocated. The governor has been criticized recently, including by Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr., over declining allocations for counties and regions. The county had gotten 3,000 doses the first week of its program, but got 500 for this week, prompting suspension of taking new appointments at its two county-run vaccination sites.

Cuomo on Wednesday said each of the state’s 10 regions gets an allocation that matches the region’s population relative to the state, then, the allocation is directed to types of
distributors based on which vaccine-eligibility group it is focusing on.

Cuomo described it this way: Hospitals get doses for healthcare workers; local governments such as county health departments get doses for essential workers, primarily police, fire, emergency-medical responders, and teachers and child care workers; and pharmacy chains focus on people age 65 and older.

Statewide, Cuomo said, healthcare workers account for 21% of people now eligible, essential workers 27%, and those age 65 or older 52%.

“Each provider must follow the priority or else the allocations are unfair,” Cuomo said. “If everyone vaccinates everyone then it’s going to be unfair to someone. if a local health department receives an allocation which is calibrated to their number of essential workers number but they give to people who are 65 plus then the essential workers are going to have less of an allocation. If the pharmacies that are supposed to be doing 65-plus if they give it to essential workers it depletes the allocation for the 65-plus.”

Cuomo acknowledged, however, that state-run sites, including one that opened Tuesday at the Marcy campus of SUNY Polytechnic Institute only to shut down its appointment reservation system later in the day, are open to any eligible state resident regardless of age or where they live. Aides to Cuomo said they’re aware of residents driving two hours or more to get to a state-run site and said if more doses become available, they will open more sites.

Cuomo expressed hope that the federal government may be able to allocate more vaccine doses and that manufacturers can increase supplies soon. The state has asked about buying doses itself but was told that under the emergency-use authorization by federal authorities only the federal government is allowed to buy the vaccines, Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the state’s seven-day average is heading down in all regions, but he repeated fears that newly identified strains from Britain, Brazil and South Africa, or one not yet identified, could prove more infectious and send infection rates back up, or even worse, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could mutate to become more lethal and even vaccine-resistant.

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