Jan. 24—New York State is running out of Covid-19 vaccines, the latest and most severe disruption to what has proved a rocky rollout in the race to vaccinate Western New Yorkers.
But a range of community vaccine providers say they've also struggled with poor communication and coordination on the part of state and regional officials.
Among other issues, the governor and state
The state has been slow to approve vaccine shipments to some community providers, even before the current shortages.
And it has kept many providers in the dark on key information surrounding the rollout, including questions as basic as how many people have been vaccinated and where. The Western New York Vaccine Hub, charged with coordinating vaccine distribution across the region, held its first call for providers on Wednesday — and persistent issues with the conference line, including difficulties muting noisy participants, made large portions of the meeting inaudible, a person who attended said.
"Things could have been done differently in
'A logistical nightmare'
Distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine was always bound to be daunting, but the
Community providers who spoke to
But on several fronts, providers said, the state has made those jobs difficult, even after accounting for the national vaccine shortage and the lack of federal support. One consistent complaint relates to vaccine shipments: While facilities can request as many doses per week as they believe they can administer in that period, there have been lengthy lags between requests and approvals, representatives from three different providers said.
Providers have, for instance, requested vaccines and never received them. Or they received more or fewer doses than they expected. At one facility, staff scrambled to stand up an immunization program and then waited days for the state to confirm they would receive the vaccines they'd been promised. At another, the state sent vaccines earmarked for a strict subset of front-line workers, with no guidance on how the facility should schedule or contact them for appointments.
In a Wednesday call with community providers,
"It's a logistical nightmare," said one person with close knowledge of the rollout at a community vaccine provider.
Administering the Covid-19 vaccine is not like dispensing pills or giving flu shots, they added. Because of the vaccine's short shelf life, the entire vial — 10 shots in total — must be injected the day they're opened. Vaccinators who do not use 95% of their shipments within a week face potential penalties from state regulators.
The confusion has been further exacerbated by public miscommunications on the state level. First on
At no point was that more visible than in the second week of January, when Cuomo announced in back-to-back news conferences that adults over the age of 75 — and later, adults over the age of 65 — could immediately begin receiving shots at retail pharmacies and local health departments. The state then published a list of participating pharmacies online, complete with phone numbers that thousands of patients assumed they could call to schedule appointments.
The announcement surprised
"It just doesn't make any sense, how it's being handled," Giroux told The News the day after Cuomo's announcement. "But we're going to comply the best we can and make the best of it."
'Repairing the plane' while flying it
Logistics seem to be improving, Giroux said last Wednesday — a sense of optimism that some, though not all, vaccine providers share. The 100 appointments he offered at
Sullivan said that local and state coordinators were learning from early glitches in the distribution system, adding that they were both "building and repairing the plane" while flying it. Representatives from
Cuomo has repeatedly blamed the federal government for the state's distribution woes, criticizing the outgoing Trump administration for failing to fund state-level distribution and allocate adequate doses. Last week, the federal shortage led to
Better planning at the federal level definitely would have eased the problems local providers are now having on the ground, said Lee, the
State officials did consult Lee's group about vaccine distribution, but not in any depth, he said.
"The federal government should have played a more active role in coordinating all the states in a national rollout," he said. "Because many people at the state and municipal levels do not have the resources or authority — or, in many cases, the expertise and experience — to know how to coordinate these very complex systems."
The ongoing issues have left him and others questioning
In particular, community providers in
"What I am still waiting to see is the regional hub officials really meeting the moment with the urgency that is asked of them," the coordinator said. "This pandemic is still an emergency. We should be devoting as much time as possible to moving vaccines through the community as quickly as possible. The time spent working preserving and perfecting a typical bureaucratic infrastructure is valuable, life-saving time wasted."
Some local providers have also questioned the logic of the strict prioritization scheme, given ongoing issues around communicating eligibility to patients and scheduling appointments. The priority phases are based on recommendations from the
His pharmacies, which have been ordered to vaccinate seniors, are still turning away teachers, first-responders and other eligible front-line workers confused about where they can get the vaccine.
"It's very hard for people to understand if they're eligible or not," said Dr.
Providers are hopeful coordination will keep improving, perhaps with more funding from the federal government. The administration of
"It's a work in progress and we'll get there," Giroux said. "They'll get their shots, just maybe not quite as quickly as they'd like to get them."
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