More New Yorkers will become eligible to receive the COVID vaccine beginning Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday. Concerns remains, though, for having enough supply to meet demand, as members of the Western New York Vaccination Hub explained shortly after the governor’s announcement.
Phase 1-B, when it begins Monday, will allow first responders, teachers, public transit and public safety workers, and individuals ages 75 and older to receive their first COVID vaccine dose.
Under Phase 1-A, however, only an estimated 23 percent of eligible recipients – mainly healthcare workers – have been vaccinated to date.
“We only get 300,000 doses from the federal government a week. And we have a very large population – over 143,000 healthcare workers in Western New York alone,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who leads the Western New York Hub. “So you could imagine the challenges and trying to get that administered, but also realizing we are trying to manage the supply we’ve been given by the federal government.”
Governor Cuomo also complained of the limited weekly supply coming from the federal government. He suggested it would take the vaccination of 70 to 90 percent of the population to achieve “herd immunity.” But with an estimated 20 million people living in the state, distributing at least 14 million doses at the current rate of available supply would take 47 weeks.
He likened the push to vaccinate the population to a foot race. With the arrival of the more contagious UK COVID strain, Cuomo warned the race is now as if the vaccination effort were running against famed sprinter Usain Bolt.
“I’m telling you we are in a danger zone. The infection rate is going up quickly,” he said. “The faster the infection rate goes up, the faster the hospitalization rate goes up. The hospitalization rate goes up, the hospitals reach capacity. Hospitals reach capacity, economy shuts down. That is what happens.”
Cuomo named the Javits Center as a mass vaccine distribution site. As far as Western New York goes, Hochul did not pinpoint any definite sites but said all options remain on the table.
“Our challenge will never be locations to give it out, ever. The question will be will we have enough doses to give to the public,” she said.
Another challenge is building trust in the vaccine. Reverend Mark Blue, who heads the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP, says this is especially so in Black and Brown communities.
“There are a lot of myths out there. There’s a lot of misgivings, mistrust in the healthcare system when it comes down to equity,” Blue said. “But we’re going to try to dispel those myths and make sure that we give the proper information, so people will know of the history of this vaccine, and that they’ll know that we need to be a part of it as a family as a team, in order to stop the spread.”
Blue acknowledged that on few occasions, there are patients who are at risk of serious adverse reactions to the vaccine. But he and his colleagues on the Western New York Health Equity Task Force are working to help people in the community make informed decisions.
“To me the right decision will be taking the vaccine,” he said.