The fight to get more COVID-19 vaccine doses escalated Friday, with Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. blaming New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for shortchanging the county so that it had to close its own distribution sites, and Cuomo warning that New York continues to get fewer vaccines from the federal government for the time being before any promised federal ramp-up materializes.
Picente called a press conference Friday morning at what had been the county’s second locally run distribution site, at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, to announce it and another site at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica were closed for lack of vaccine doses. He said it appears the state is diverting doses from the county to a state-run site at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute campus in Marcy, which opened Tuesday — only to run out of available appointments later in the day.
With snow falling, winds picking up and high temperatures in the teens forecast for the weekend, Picente said he has no objection to increasing vaccine sites but said the county is better equipped, particularly at Griffiss, where vaccine recipients were able to get a dose without leaving their vehicles. That’s not possible at the SUNY-Poly site, which is in the campus field house.
“When you look at a day like today — do you want your mother, father, grandparents walking when you can drive them in here, stay warm in a car, get their shot in the arm, don’t have to get out?” Picente said.
Furthermore, Picente repeated his contention that county-level health departments should be used because they are usually the way vaccines, such as those for seasonal flu, are given. The county has identified some 40 other sites for vaccine distribution if it ever gets enough doses, and has capacity to give 10,000 a week, he added.
“We have always been in the business of vaccinations. We have been the state’s arm for that. It’s always been the counties … Local health departments are trained. Emergency services departments are trained. They run drills, do practice runs. We have established a plan that outlines all of this.”
Cuomo again said vaccines are distributed to each of the 10 designated regions according to their share of the state’s population of about 19.4 million. A chart he displayed during a briefing Friday showed the Mohawk Valley region of six counties as having about 3% of the population. At about 235,000, Oneida County comprises about 1.2% of the state.
New York expects to get about 250,400 next week, Cuomo said.
As he did earlier in the week, the governor said the state is further apportioning doses within regions based on the relative size of the main eligibility groups, each of which is to be prioritized at certain types of distribution points: healthcare workers at 21% and served primarily by hospitals; essential workers including police, fire and teachers at 27%, reached by local health departments or employee unions; and those 65 and older 52%, who should go to pharmacies and other small-scale sites.
Cuomo said scarcity will likely remain unless the makers can ramp up production or the federal government approves other makers’ vaccines. At the present rate it would take 17 weeks just to vaccinate those already eligible, who comprise less than half the state’s overall population, though the current vaccines are intended only for those age 16 and older.
“No one is happy. Everybody wants more,” Picente said. “What do you do? You be as fair as you can possibly be with the allocation you have. That’s what we’re doing.”
Cuomo administration spokesperson Jack Sterne added in an email later Friday:
"The County Executive clearly hasn’t been paying attention, so we’ll repeat the rules for him again: counties are only responsible for vaccinating essential workers, while pharmacies, health clinics, doctors’ offices, and state sites should be vaccinating seniors. Let’s cut the politics – the only way we can distribute vaccines equitably given the lackluster federal supply is by following these simple rules. County Executive Picente should know better and if he’s been misinforming his constituents, all of this confusion falls squarely on his shoulders.”
Oneida County reported 152 new test-confirmed cases of COVID-19 through the 24 hours that ended at midnight Thursday, for 7,215 known active cases, continuing a general downward trend since Jan. 1. For the first day since about Nov. 24, the county reported no new COVID-related deaths.
On their final day open at least for now, the Griffiss site on Thursday gave 242 vaccine doses and 312 at MVCC, for 4,832 vaccines given between the two.
The county’s positive-test rate was 6.2% of test results received over the previous seven days, down from 6.8% Thursday. The Mohawk Valley region’s rate was 7.5%, unchanged from a day earlier. It had 7.04 new hospitalizations per 100,000 population a day averaged over the previous seven days, compared to 5.33 for the state as a whole. The region’s hospital capacity stood unchanged at 26% of overall beds and 24% of intensive-care units.