N.Y. readies thousands of public vaccine distribution sites

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, and state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, pictured Tuesday in the state Capitol during a coronavirus briefing to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office

ALBANY — The state will use thousands of public distribution sites across New York to expedite the COVID-19 vaccine to essential workers, the elderly and eventually the general public as officials expect immunization supply to increase in the coming months.

The state has received about 300,000 doses of drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine each week since immunizations began Dec. 14, or roughly 1.2 million dosages per month.

The initial supply is reserved for high-risk and all health care workers, especially those who directly work with the public per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, but eligibility will expand to vaccinate essential workers and New Yorkers over age 75 in the next phase, or those most at risk to become hospitalized or die from COVID-19 complications.

“If you have a hospital now that says, ‘I did all my health care workers and I have an extra allocation,’ contact us and we’ll move it,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday during a coronavirus briefing in the state Capitol.

The state’s more than 5,000 pharmacies, federally qualified health centers, county health departments, long-term care facilities, private urgent care clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities will administer the vaccine to those larger groups, and eventually, the general public.

“We’ll be supplying all of these outlets with the vaccine to do the distribution when we get to the general public,” Cuomo said. “The distribution system is going to outpace our supply system right now, which is the way it should be.”

The nation’s vaccine supply is expected to increase with the pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of Oxford-Astra Zeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines.

Johnson & Johnson’s immunization against the novel coronavirus only requires one dose to be effective, and would help the state and nation’s supply.

“We’re distributing 900,000 vaccines for a 2 million population of health care workers,” said Cuomo, adding the state needs another four weeks of allocation to vaccinate all health workers at its current rate and move to essential workers and the elderly.

To date, 3,762 vaccination provider sites have enrolled as a distribution site with the state Department of Health.

The north country has 150 sites, with 297 designated locations in the Finger Lakes, 351 in Western New York and 343 in the Capital Region.

The state reports 636 vaccination provider sites at hospitals, federally qualified health centers, urgent care and local health departments are currently active and helping to vaccinate the state’s 2.1 million health care workers with their first of two injections with 25 in the north country, 47 in the Finger Lakes, 40 in Western New York and 37 in the Capital Region.

“There’s a network out there besides these hospitals where people can go (to be vaccinated) if they’re eligible health care workers right now,” Cuomo said.

The governor requested large police and fire departments and transit workers to organize their employees to help vaccinate first responders and essential workers.

The vaccine is free to all eligible New Yorkers.

The federal government controls the vaccine supply and allocates vials to U.S. states.

Cuomo released a list of the 10 best-performing and slowest-performing hospitals when administering COVID-19 vaccines. As of Monday afternoon, hospitals across the state had used about 46%, or less than half, of their allocated vaccine supply to date.

The delay varies by hospital or health system, DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and Cuomo said.

“We need them to operate quickly and put in place a seven-day use it or lose it,” Cuomo said of the DOH’s new guidelines, and potential $100,000 fine to hospitals for not inoculating New Yorkers quickly enough after vaccine shipments are delivered to a facility.

Hospitals that fail to efficiently immunize health care workers will not receive additional vaccine shipments to carry out the task.

“I need the best hospitals with the best management in the best systems as part of this effort because it’s literally a matter of life and death,” Cuomo said.

The state plans to set up large vaccination sites at field hospitals, such as the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, churches, community centers and other temporary sites to ensure minority and poor communities are also protected against the novel coronavirus.

“That’s a priority,” Cuomo said.

The state’s COVID-19 infection rate without microcluster zones was 8.12% on Tuesday — up from 7.78% the day before, but in line with 8% positive for most of last week before the New Year’s holiday. Statewide positivity increased to 8.31% including hot spots.

Virus hospitalizations continue to tick up statewide, with 8,590 total patients in state hospitals Tuesday, up 339 patients overnight.

The state reported 149 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 complications Monday — down slightly from 170 virus fatalities Sunday.

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