State gives local counties few vaccines

Hope in the form of a vaccine came in December. Nurse Michaele Dobson, right, administers the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to nurse Laura Hooker, of Wilmington, at the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake on Dec. 23. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Franklin County just recently started receiving coronavirus vaccines for the first time, and the delivery of doses to Essex County has slowed to a trickle as the state continues to contend with a lack of supply amid overwhelming demand.

The Essex County Health Department has requested weekly deliveries of 1,000 vaccine doses, and Franklin County Public Health has requested 500 doses. Instead, the state has delivered 100 doses to each county health department each week, according to multiple county officials familiar with the deliveries.

Franklin County Public Health didn’t receive its 100-dose allocation at all until last week, according to County Board of Legislators Chairman Donald Dabiew, D-Bombay. He said his county’s allotment went missing somewhere along the way.

“They didn’t make it here,” he said Monday. “I don’t know why they didn’t make it here.”

The state increased the counties’ 100-dose delivery over the weekend, notifying county health departments that an additional 100 doses would be delivered this week for use specifically on those living and working in congregate living situations overseen by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, according to Essex County Senior Public Health Educator Andrea Whitmarsh.

“This population has been eligible for vaccines in the 1a phase of vaccine distribution, though under-represented across the state in those being vaccinated,” she said.

Phase 1a was for health care workers, nursing home residents and workers, and residents and workers in some other congregate living facilities. In mid-January the state expanded eligibility to include those in phase 1b, which includes anyone over 65 years of age, first responders, front-line grocery store workers and others.

Still, the number of vaccines delivered here continues to fall behind what local public health officials have requested.

Each county health department operates with a small staff, but the heads of both departments have said their departments are prepared to handle their share of the vaccine rollout.

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland, R-Willsboro, said during the board’s Ways and Means meeting on Jan. 25 that he’s heard no indication from the state that the supply of vaccines flowing into this county will increase.

Gillilland also noted that the state may open up a new vaccine clinic in Warren County. He thinks that means the region’s vaccine allocation will be further diverted to state-run clinics, such as those already in Plattsburgh and Potsdam, rather than local health departments or health care providers.

The supply of vaccines flowing to pharmacies was less clear, but Gillilland said no entity is allowed to take appointments until it has confirmed the number of doses being delivered to it.

Available vaccine appointments at pharmacies in Essex and Franklin counties have been relatively scarce, and many local seniors have been directed to instead make appointments at the state-run clinics in Plattsburgh or Potsdam.

Dabiew said two Kinney Drugs locations in Franklin County received 200 doses collectively last week.

The seven-county North Country region has been allocated a total of 62,350 vaccine doses so far, according to the state Department of Health. That doesn’t reflect the number of people vaccinated here, however; that total includes second doses.

More than 7.1 million New Yorkers are eligible to be vaccinated, according to the DOH. The federal government, which controls the flow of vaccines, has allocated more than 1.5 million first doses of the vaccine so far to New York. The state’s vaccine allocation is expected to increase 16% in the next three weeks.

“The entirety of our week seven allocation was delivered to providers yesterday, and already New York has administered 90% of its first doses while prioritizing fairness and equity,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Monday. “Week after week we exhaust our vaccine supply and are basically left waiting for the next week’s delivery.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, has repeatedly blamed former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration for the lack of vaccine supply, although Democrat Joe Biden became president two weeks ago. Meanwhile, multiple Republican state legislators have criticized the governor’s handling of the state’s vaccine rollout.