WATERTOWN — Delivery of the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines has caused headaches and confusion statewide, many have said, especially with the implementation of state-run sites over the last two weeks.
During a briefing to reporters Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo elaborated on the state’s new formula for distributing doses of the vaccinations, including clarification as to the effect state-run sites have on distributions locally.
As is the case in other regions of the state, two state-run facilities in the north country — located in Potsdam and Plattsburgh — opened Monday and are offering hundreds of appointments. But these sites aren’t easily accessible for those who don’t live close by, raising concerns about equity of the distribution. Many are concerned about senior citizens and other people not being able to drive multiple hours to Potsdam and back.
To combat this, Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairman Scott A. Gray, a member of the governor’s north country control room, said he’s offered plans and facilities to set up a state-run site at Watertown’s Jefferson Community College, or the former Convergys call center, which is where the Watertown Family YMCA’s $18.1 million community center is slated to go. There is no definite date as to when construction on the project will begin, so the 60,000 square feet of space is sitting vacant.
“Just give us the doses,” Mr. Gray said. “We know the metrics so we can schedule people.”
He also acknowledged that the state hasn’t ruled out setting up a site in Watertown, but he hasn’t heard further about any plans in the immediacy.
Financial Services Deputy Superintendent Gareth Rhodes, a leading member of the state’s Coronavirus Task Force, explained during a briefing earlier this week that doses are divvied up by region according to its share of personnel eligible to receive the vaccine under Phase 1B. This includes anyone over the age of 65, frontline grocery store workers, first responders, corrections staff, firefighters and law enforcement.
According to the state’s region-by-region dashboard on vaccine allocations, the north country is allocated about 2% of all doses the state receives. The north country region constitutes seven counties: Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Franklin, Clinton, Essex and Hamilton. Of the 250,000 doses state officials claim they received from the federal government this week, that means about 5,000 will be allocated to north country providers, including pharmacies, hospitals and county public health departments.
According to the governor, the number of doses that are distributed to each individual provider in the region depends on two factors: the percentage of the 1B population constituted by each sub-group, and how well certain providers are doing vaccinating that population.
Gov. Cuomo’s briefing indicated about 57% of 1B are people over age 65, 21% are health care workers and 27% are other essential workers. Since different facilities are primarily charged with distributing to particular populations, the state is trying to allocate doses specifically to those providers by the same proportions. For example, pharmacies are only vaccinating populations over the age of 65, meaning they are theoretically being sent about 57% of the vaccines.
This isn’t definitive, though. The second factor on effectiveness can increase or decrease this allotment. If larger swaths of a particular sub-group have been vaccinated, as is the case with health care workers in the north country, they receive fewer new doses.
But wait, there’s more. On top of all of this is the state sites.
Right now, the two state-run sites at SUNY Potsdam and the Plattsburgh airport are together distributing an additional 7,000 doses per week on top of all the other providers. This means about 58% of all doses in the north country are being distributed at those two locations alone. This has led hundreds of people from outside St. Lawrence County to drive hours to get doses there, often driven by a lack of closer appointments.
During Friday’s briefing, the governor also noted the state will run out of doses to allocate.
Mr. Gray checked with the state site at SUNY Potsdam and confirmed all doses for appointments through the end of the week are on hand and will be distributed as planned.
Monday’s doses haven’t arrived yet.