How to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the north country

Jennifer A. Pelton, director of Adult Services at Transitional Living Services in Watertown, is vaccinated Dec. 30 for COVID-19. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — New York state opened up its Phase 1B rollout of COVID-19 vaccines Monday, giving a larger number of people a chance to schedule appointments to receive their first dose. Here’s what we know so far:

At about 8 a.m. Monday, the state opened up a portal for any individual to complete a form to determine whether they are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Under the state’s 1B criteria, this includes individuals who are 75 years of age or older, some essential workers such as teachers, emergency services workers and any medical professional or long-term care facility staff who were previously included in the state’s 1A rollout.

That portal can be found here.

Also on Monday, the state opened a hotline at 833-697-4829 for eligible populations to sign up for vaccine appointments.

Following a week of pressing hospitals to ramp up vaccinations of eligible groups in the 1A category — which largely included populations of frontline health care workers, as well as staff and residents in long-term care facilities — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo finally announced Friday that sign-ups would be open Monday for the 1B category. At the same time, he cautioned that it may take up to 14 weeks to actually administer the doses for populations in the 1B category.

While the expansion into 1B represents a much larger group of eligible people than has been previously open in the last few weeks, many people still do not qualify. Those who don’t can still complete the form, but are kept from making an appointment through the state portal.

Other providers also rolled out their own sign-ups for eligible people Monday.

Kinney Drugs, a regional pharmacy, has a form available on its website for individuals 75 years of age and older to sign up for appointments at their pharmacies.

The link to that form can be found here.

On Monday evening, the website displayed a message that all appointments are booked.

“However, additional appointments will open up as more vaccine becomes available,” the message reads. “We ask that you please do NOT call your local store, as they are focused on serving patients and will have no additional information. Instead, please check this site often. Thank you so much for your patience!”

Kinney Drugs is also offering on-site clinics for businesses and organizations at no cost.

If you’re interested in an on-site clinic, sign up here and be the first to know when COVID-19 vaccines are available at Kinney and clinics may be scheduled, as stated on their webpage.

For many newly eligible populations, vaccinations will be conducted outside the state’s “retail” locations.

St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Director of Communications Rebekah Mott said eligible teachers and school staff in St. Lawrence County should not sign up for a vaccine through the portal and should wait to receive word from their school superintendent.

“Just hang on, we’re going to have information. We’re going to make it as easy as possible and hopefully we can complete it as quickly as possible,” Ms. Mott said.

She indicated that the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department will be working with schools to set up vaccinations specifically for schools, but she was still waiting for details from the county.

Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Stephen Todd said clinics for teachers and school staff in Jefferson County would also be conducted, but details weren’t yet available.

“We’re awaiting specific guidance from our county public health partners, and they’ve indicated they’ll be sending links for registering for local vaccination clinics to area superintendents, who will distribute that to their staff in the near future,” Mr. Todd wrote in an email Monday.

During a press conference held Monday morning and livestreamed on Facebook, Lewis County Manager Ryan M. Piche indicated that school staff would be one of the county’s largest groups in this phase.

During the same press conference, Lewis County officials rolled out three clinics run by its public health department this week to distribute roughly 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine it has received. Online forms to sign up for the county-run clinics opened at noon Monday, but Mr. Piche told reporters those available slots were all filled by 3 p.m.

Lewis County Public Health Director Ashley Waite said more vaccinations would be set up as more doses become available.

“We will see after this week. All of the local fire departments throughout the county have agreed to be POD (point of dispersal) locations for us so I would at least like to touch every area of the county, but that has yet to be determined. That’s part of our planning,” Ms. Waite said, emphasizing these clinics were for Lewis County residents only.

Monday’s rollout was not without confusion and it was clear that some entities and organizations were far more prepared than others for the launch of Phase 1B.

At 11:11 a.m. Monday, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa tweeted out that SUNY Potsdam would be designated a state vaccination site. Just 15 minutes earlier, SUNY Potsdam Public Relations Director Alexandra Jacobs-Wilke said she couldn’t confirm if the university would serve as a vaccination site.

“In the weeks and months to come, eligible New Yorkers will make appointments and arrive at these SUNY campuses to receive the vaccine and protection from COVID-19,” SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras wrote in a prepared statement Monday. “I am proud of these institutions for mobilizing so quickly, and of our university system as a whole for continuing to offer major contributions in the battle against this virus.”

It’s still not exactly clear who will be facilitating the SUNY Potsdam site.

As of Monday, the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department was working on an agreement to set up SUNY Potsdam as a point of dispersal for COVID-19 vaccinations in the county, but Gov. Cuomo previously indicated that SUNY schools would be used a mass vaccination sites. Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said it would be a “state site,” but did not offer more details other than that it would be by appointment only like all sites.

St. Lawrence County Public Health Director Dana O. McGuire did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

During Monday’s St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators meeting, Ms. McGuire said the county has not yet been allocated vaccines and could not move forward until that point.

The Jefferson County Public Health Service also did not respond to multiple requests for comment Monday.

Lewis County reporter Julie Abbass contributed to this report.

Want to share your story? Trying to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Need help? We want to hear from you. Email vgolden@wdt.net with any questions or comments about your vaccine experience.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(2) comments

Kathryn

14 weeks to get through stage 1B! 14 weeks is over THREE months! Why is this taking so long? Biden wants to release ALL available vaccine for immediate distribution. What had already been released to New York weeks ago has still not been efficiently distributed. Someone who knows what they're doing needs to take charge of this chaos.

DJT

Agree Coumo is unfit for this. Our high taxes we should have the best distribution. Well of course he is NOT fit!!!!! NY is doomed

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