Equity, awareness prioritized by Monroe County’s new COVID-19 vaccine task force

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza announced the formation of a COVID-19 vaccination task force Wednesday, to lead an inclusive and equitable distribution plan for the community.

The vaccination task force will be led by Dr. Nancy Bennett of University of Rochester Medical Center and Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health.

“This is going to be a long, thorough process. We are still a few months away from wider distributions,” Bello said. “Vaccine distribution is going to be a massive undertaking, and we must get this right. Today we’re here to announce the formation of the COVID-19 vaccination task force, a collaborative and inclusive initiative to spearhead our community’s efforts to improve education and awareness of the vaccine.”

Bello said Dr. Bennett was appointed as a special advisor to Dr. Mendoza, and will work directly with him and the department of public health in the planning and coordination of vaccine distribution.

“Conducting a vaccination program of this magnitude and scope is not something we have done before, and it will be very complex,” Dr. Mendoza said.

“We are a community that comes together,” Dr. Bennett said. “We came together to flatten the curve, we can now come together to give everyone in our community a vaccine.”

During a Wednesday COVID-19 briefing in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said URMC would lead the Finger Lakes region with vaccine distribution management once the state gets to phase two of the administration plan.

Bello said Norwood would lead a community engagement and public education campaign for the COVID-19 vaccine efforts.

“From day one, our core principles in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine must be, and will be equity, fairness, and transparency,” Bello said. “Dr. Bennett and Wade Norwood will be at the head of the table, but the table will be inclusive and representative of our entire community.”

“Being sensitive to the many perspectives, such as cultural or faith based perspectives, will be so important to us as we aim for that common goal of reaching 75% of our community being vaccinated against COVID-19,” Dr. Mendoza said. “For all of those who are out there who are not yet believers in the process or in the outcome, we have a lot of work to do. And I can think of no better partners than Wade Norwood and Dr. Nancy Bennett to help us in this fight.”

“I’ve been adamant that before lining up for the vaccine, or encouraging others to do the same, there must be a program and a community effort aimed at full transparency about the development of the vaccine, and a commitment to the extraordinary effort required to bring fact-based education about the safety and the efficacy of the vaccines to all residents, especially underserved populations,” Norwood said. “We must respect people’s concerns and respond to their objections. You earn people’s trust by being trustworthy.”

The county executive said stakeholders in the vaccine plan would include representatives from the City of Rochester and other government partners, community organizations, healthcare providers, neighborhood organizations in the faith community, and many more.

“We want to empower our community, and these groups, to help us educate about the importance of the vaccine and the role it plays in helping to put an end to this crisis,” Bello said. “We are taking this proactive step to ensure this process is done correctly and we’re putting our communities resources behind it.”

“The number one priority is equity,” Dr. Bennett said. ‘We need to ensure that everyone in our community has equal access to this vaccine, and knows as much as they need to know about it before they make their choices.”

“This is not something that the government is is going to do to us, this is something we’re going to have to do together,” Norwood said. “The message is important, but the messenger is also important.”

Pfizer’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the Rochester region on Tuesday and local health officials from both Rochester Regional Health and University of Rochester Medical Center said they have already started to give some to the employees most at risk.

MORE | Find a free rapid COVID-19 test site in the Rochester area

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week the Rochester and Finger Lakes region would receive more than 11,000 doses from the state’s first shipment, which arrived in New York state Monday.

The county execute said the vaccination process would reflect much of the pandemic so far, in that it would include an open information plan into between health systems, the county, the state and federal governments, and more regarding logistics and coordination.

A critical care nurse who has treated COVID-19 patients in hard-hit New York City became the first person in the state to receive the vaccine as part of campaign to inoculate front-line health care workers.

“Fear is normal,” Norwood said. “This is a fearful thing that has killed over 300,000 Americans. Of course people are worried. We meet fear with facts, and with fellowship, and with togetherness.”

The health commissioner said the discussions happening today will have an impact on the future.

“All of the work that we’re doing now to bring the vaccination out to our community all has to happen before we can have an honest and real conversation about what next school year looks like,” Dr. Mendoza said. “That being said, if all of the adults that get vaccinated are able to get vaccinated before the school year, and the remaining population to be immunized is the children, we’re going to be in a much safer space.”

“We know that the companies are now starting trials in children,” Dr. Bennett said. “It’s quite possible that by next fall we’ll know whether children or not children can receive this vaccine.”

Check back with News 8 WROC as we continue to update this developing story.

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