Bello, Dr. Mendoza stress patience as regional COVID-19 vaccination handcuffed by supply


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello joined Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, Ontario County Public Health Director Mary Beer, and Dr. Nancy Bennett from the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub to give an update on the local COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The county executive said that so far, University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health have administered about 20,000 vaccines, and the Monroe County Department of Public Health has administered approximately 1,200.

He added that more people in the local community have received the first doses of the vaccine, specifically nursing home staff and residents, but he didn’t have the exact numbers of which because they are reported through the federal program handling that endeavor.

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“The Finger Lakes regional hub, which URMC is responsible for the coordination of the vaccine in Monroe County and throughout the region, is in Phase 1a, which is nursing homes and long term care facilities,” Bello said. “Here in Monroe County we are working closely with our hub to assist with those vaccination efforts in the current phase, and to be able to scale up our efforts to vaccinate larger groups of the population.”

“URMC was asked to be a hub for New York state vaccination effort,” Dr. Bennett said. “These hubs are established in 10 medical centers across the state and each one of these hubs are responsible for a certain region. The purpose of these hubs is to really coordinate the vaccination efforts in this region, so typically much of this work is done by public health and this time around it was felt that we really needed to engaged with the hospitals.”

The county executive said over the past week, the vaccination process has expanded to include EMS workers.

“Just last week we began vaccinating nearly 2,000 EMS personnel,” Bello said. “We’ve ramped up to a pace where we can vaccinate roughly 500 people per day and we anticipate completing EMS personnel this week.”

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Dr. Bennett said Phase 1b will include essential workers who aren’t operating in a health care capacity, and for residents over the age of 75.

As far as timelines, officials say they have no clear answers on when the region will advance to the next phase of vaccination.

“The timing of the next step is very unclear,” Dr. Bennett said. “We still have a lot of health care workers to vaccinate, so 1a is a pretty big group of people across the region. We have a long way to go in 1a and what the criteria will be for moving to 1b is not entirely clear because, again, we haven’t done this before, but I would anticipate it would be weeks before we get to 1b. When we do move to 1b, it is likely that a tremendous amount of the vaccine will be distributed through public clinics.”

Dr. Bennett added that phase 1c will extend vaccination eligibility to people between the ages of 16-65 who have chronic conditions.

Dr. Bennett said Phase 2 will be used as a period for people who were somehow missed in the earlier phases before Phase 3, which will include the general population between 16 and 65 years old.

“I feel completely confident that we’ll achieve our goals,” Dr. Bennett said. “It may be bumpy, it may be ugly, it may take longer than we hope, but we will get there.”

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The health commissioner acknowledged that there is a lot of unknowns regarding the vaccination process and expressed patience in the coming months.

“We understand that we do not have all of the answers people want right now,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We understand that it is not going as fast as anyone would like, including myself, but please know we are chipping away at this. When you are available to receive the vaccine I promise you — you will know it. With support from many people across the community, you will know when and where and how — I promise you you will not miss out.”

With supply limited, and mass immunization months away — as a best case scenario — officials are urging compliance and patience.

“It’s been nearly 10 months since our first case of COVID 19 and this community has come together in ways that we’ve never seen before,” Bello said. “We’ve had non-profit groups, government groups, Health care systems, and individuals in this community come together and slow the spread. While the finish line is on the horizon, the vaccination process here is going to take some time and so patience is required. It’s not going to go as fast as any of us want to go. We need everyone here, over the next weeks and months, to dig deeper and understand what it is that slowed the spread, and flattened the curve so we can save lives.”

“We want to get back to normal, we want our businesses and our schools fully open, we want to revive social connections, and we want to travel,” Dr. Mendoza said. “All of those things will be possible, but first we have to carry out what I would call the largest public health operation of our generation.”

That large public health operation is expected to take awhile. During Tuesday’s briefing, Gov. Cuomo said New York currently receives approximately 300,000 vaccine doses per week, or about 1.2 million per month.

With about 20 million New Yorkers needing two doses of the vaccine, it would take more than two and a half years under the current trajectory to have everyone in the state vaccinated.

“There’s no way we’re going to be able to vaccinate the entire population by the end of the year if we go only at this rate,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’re going to have to speed up if we want to get to the finish line, which I’d like to this fall, but it all depends on the distribution.”

“We are dependent on other vaccines being approved for use and being deployed,” Dr. Bennett said. “Currently there are enough doses to get started, but not enough to complete our entire population and that’s part of the reason for the phased approach. We’re pretty confident that other vaccines will be coming. We need more vaccine there’s no question.”

Asked about the upcoming Buffalo Bills playoff game, for which more than 6,000 fans will be allowed to attend for the first time this season, the county executive asked attendees to be smart.

“In terms of being a super spreader event I have to trust the health officials and the testing strategy to make sure people are safe and it doesn’t contribute to the spread of the disease,” Bello said. “I would ask everyone who is going to the game from Monroe County to take the precautions that we consistently offer.”

Watch the full news briefing:

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