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Now those 50 and older can get vaccine

Local health agencies happy to vaccinate more people

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)

New York state dropped the vaccine eligibility age by a decade Monday, and now anyone over 50 years old is able to get their shot at a point-of-distribution location or clinic.

“We’re ecstatic,” Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers said. “We want it open. Our job is to get vaccines in the arms of as many people as we can get it as quickly as possible, so we are excited.”

She is looking forward to the day when every age group is eligible.

“Any time an additional person is vaccinated is better for the public health,” Adirondack Health spokesperson Matt Scollin said.

He said the Saranac Lake-based health network was planning how to move forward with its vaccinations in light of the news Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. But he said that as more doses become available, Adirondack Health has had no problem finding people to take them.

Beers noted that when the vaccines were first released they were in shorter supply, so the state had to set priority groups to receive them: first health care workers, then, people over 65, then people with underlying health conditions, etc. At first the focus was on vaccinating people who would face the most health risk if they contracted the virus, often older people. Now she thinks it’s time to focus on the people most likely to spread it, often younger people.

She pointed out that with spring break coming up, young people will be traveling and could become potential transmitters.

Beers said while the county has not had a problem getting vaccines in people’s arms, the PODs are not selling out as fast as they used to.

Counties have a seven-day “move it or lose it” policy, she said. If doses are not administered in a week, they get reallocated to another county in need.

“If other people can get it in arms in seven days, why would somebody hang onto it?” Beers said. “But that is not Essex County’s case.”

She said the age drop will help keep Essex County from needing to give away doses.

Scollin added, “It can be a bit of a challenge sometimes because when you open that vial, you have five doses or 10 doses, and they all are going to expire within a couple of hours,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a bit of work around the very end to make sure you hit that just right and make sure you don’t waste any vaccine.”

However, he said Adirondack Health has never had a dose spoil. If one does, the hospital would have to report it to state Department of Health.

Beers said the county receives a 200-dose allotment each week, plus 100 for people who are home-bound and occasional donations from Adirondack Health and other counties.

Scollin said the hospital recently opened vaccines up to eligible people under the essential worker classifications. He said around 87% of Adirondack Health employees have been vaccinated.

More than 1.65 million doses have been administered through New York mass vaccination sites and FEMA sites to date. Delivery of the week-15 allocation begins mid-week.

Due to limited supply, New Yorkers are encouraged to remain patient and are advised not to show up at vaccination sites without an appointment.

The “Am I Eligible” screening tool — https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov — has been updated for people with “comorbidities” (coinciding health conditions), and new appointments are released on a rolling basis over the next weeks. New Yorkers can use the following to show they are eligible: a doctor’s letter, medical information evidencing comorbidity or signed certification.

As of Monday morning, there were a total of 7,737,230 vaccine doses administered in the state. In all, 26.1% of New Yorkers had received at least one vaccine dose, and 13.4% of New Yorkers had completed their vaccine series. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots several weeks apart while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires just one shot.

Essex County Public Health is planning a POD on Wednesday at Boquet Valley Central School’s Mountain View Campus in Elizabethtown. Beers said 165 appointments were still open as of 4 p.m. Monday. To sign up for a vaccine, go to the Essex County Health Department website. Under the “COVID-19 vaccine” click the “Make an Appointment” link.