ALBANY, N.Y (WROC) — As COVID-19 vaccines roll off the shelves and into the arms of New Yorkers, many are wondering when it’s their turn to roll up their sleeves.
After adjusted CDC recommendations, the state announced on Tuesday, January 12 that Phase 1b — which originally included residents over 65, educators, firefighters and police — is expanding to include residents 75-years-and-older or immunocompromised.
Rochester Regional Health announced on Monday it began calling its eligible patients and scheduling appointments for Tuesday this week. On Wednesday, University of Rochester announced eligible patients will be contacted directly, with first vaccinations beginning Friday, pending vaccine supply.
Both hospital systems have emphasized that eligible patients will be contacted to scheduled their vaccine appointment as their supply grows. Patients do not need to call to schedule an appointment.
For essential workers that are eligible (educators, firefighters, police, grocery store workers, child care employees and in-person college instructors), the Monroe County Department of Public Health will be working with their respective employers on the vaccination process.
In New York State’s “Am I eligible” tool online, the state provides a list of pharmacies that will be administering the COVID-19 vaccine, not all pharmacies have the vaccine yet, but those who do have begun scheduling appointments to anyone who falls under the Phase 1b category. According to officials, the appointments fill up fast as the vaccine supply is limited.
Vaccines are being given in an order that protects the most vulnerable and frontline workers first. On Monday, New York expanded vaccinations into Phase 1b.
Phase 1a included patient-facing hospital healthcare workers, nursing home and assisted living facility residents and staff, EMT volunteers and staff, and those who are administering the vaccine.
Phase 1b includes people 76 years old and above, those who are immunocompromised, education workers, first responders (police and fire), public transit workers and public safety workers.
“While we’re trying to control COVID with one hand, we’re trying to defeat it with the other and the vaccine is the weapon that will win this war,” Gov. Cuomo said in a Monday press release. “Getting this vaccine out is going to be the single greatest operation government has ever had to accomplish and we’re taking bold actions to ensure it is delivered swiftly and equitably for all New Yorkers. Not only are all health care workers – the heroes who have taken care of us throughout this entire pandemic – now eligible to receive their first dose, but we are taking steps to ensure providers expedite vaccinations, resources are in place to vaccinate the general public, and bad actors looking to game the system are held accountable.”
According to the governor’s office Monday: “Under the Department of Health’s most recent eligibility guidance, beginning January 4, all Outpatient/Ambulatory front-line, high-risk health care workers of any age who provide direct in-person patient care, or other staff in a position in which they have direct contact with patients will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Individuals who work in private medical practices
- Hospital-affiliated medical practices; public health clinics
- Specialty medical practices of all types
- Dental practices of all types
- Dialysis workers
- Diagnostic and treatment centers
- Occupational therapists
- Physical therapists
- Speech therapists
- Behavioral health workers
- Student health workers
Additionally, all front-line, high-risk public health workers who have direct contact with patients, including individuals who administer COVID-19 tests, handle COVID-19 lab specimens, and those directly engaged in COVID-19 vaccinations are also eligible to receive the vaccine.
Eligibility also expands this week to include home care workers, those in the consumer directed programs, hospice workers, and staff of nursing homes/skilled nursing facilities and other congregate settings who did not receive the COVID-19 vaccination through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program.
Supplemental Support for Federal Nursing Home Vaccination Program
Currently, 611 facilities in New York have enrolled in the federal government’s Nursing Home Vaccination Program, in which staff and residents receive vaccinations through a partnership with pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. According to the latest data, 288 facilities – or 47 percent – have completed the first dose for residents. Through state facilitation, 234 more facilities will administer the first dose this week. This will ensure that 85 percent of facilities have administered the first dose to residents by week’s end, with the remaining 15 percent to be completed over the next two weeks.
Planning for Vaccination of General Public
As the state moves closer to the vaccination of the general public, a number of special efforts are now underway to ensure resources are in place to facilitate widespread vaccination, especially in underserved communities. First, the state will establish a number of pop-up vaccination centers to facilitate public vaccinations, similar to the state-run mobile testing centers which were established in the spring. The state is also identifying public facilities and convention centers to also be used as vaccination centers, and is recruiting retired nurses, doctors and pharmacists to support vaccine administrations.
A main focus of these efforts will also be focused on ensuring vaccine access in underserved communities and health care deserts. The state is already in the process of building Community Vaccination Kits to support these efforts and will work with public housing officials, churches and community centers to identify the most appropriate locations for kit deployments.
Each kit includes step-by-step instructions for how to set up a site, and critical supplies and equipment such as:
- Office Supplies
- Workstation Equipment
- Communications Equipment
- Cleaning Supplies
- Lighting Equipment
- Crowd/Traffic Control Equipment
- Room Dividers
- Privacy Curtains
Ensuring Accountability Within Vaccine Administration Process
The vaccine will only be effective if it is administered quickly and fairly across every corner of the state. To facilitate this, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker issued a letter to vaccine providers in recent days outlining the expectations which have been placed on providers to ensure an expedited administration of the vaccine. This included:
- Any provider must use the vaccine inventory currently in hand by the end of week or face a fine up to $100,000;
- Moving forward, facilities must use all of its vaccine allotment within seven days of receipt;
- Providers who do not comply or are found to be seriously deficient can be subject to more serious sanctions and fines, including being disqualified from future distribution
Additionally, with fraud being a real concern of any operation this size, the governor is signing an Executive Order stating that if any entity falsifies who or what they are, or if any entity does not follow state guidelines on vaccine eligibility, that provider will be subject to license revocation. The governor will also be proposing legislation to make these acts criminal moving forward.”