Counties Face Vaccine Shortages As State Expands Eligible Groups

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — More New Yorkers can begin making appointments to get the COVID-19 vaccine as part of Phase 1B of distribution. Actually getting an appointment, however, may prove harder with the ongoing shortage of vaccines nationwide.

Broome County Executive Jason Garnar at a media briefing on COVID-19 last year. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

The initial phase, 1A, made around 2.1 million health care workers and nursing home residents eligible for vaccination. Group 1B adds another 3.1 million eligible New Yorkers, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, public transit and safety workers.

During his State of the State address on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said New York receives 300,000 vaccines from the federal government each week. That’s left them with just over 1 million vaccines to distribute to the now 5 million New Yorkers eligible.

The shortage is a challenge for counties tasked with operating vaccination sites. Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said everything needed to begin widespread distribution is in place but the vaccines themselves.

“We have the infrastructure in place. We have the staffing in place,” Garnar said. “We’re all ready to go, but we can only give out the vaccine that we actually have in our hands.”

Garnar said the shortage is dire. While the county requested 400 vaccine doses to distribute this week, the state responded it will give them half that amount.

Many hospitals have run out of doses before vaccinating all of their eligible health care workers.

“Now we opened up a whole new group — it’s putting much more stress and pressure on the system and that’s the challenge that we have for us,” Garnar stressed.

Garnar said only 25 percent of healthcare workers in the county’s hospitals have been vaccinated so far, and, as of Monday morning, he was not aware of a new allotment of doses.

Gov. Cuomo tweeted Monday that 605,677 people have been vaccinated statewide, including 511,369 in hospitals and 94,308 in long-term care facilities.

New York will open 20 mass vaccination sites over the coming weeks. Cuomo announced today that the central site for the Southern Tier will be located at Binghamton University’s Johnson City campus.

Garnar said that once the supply is available, the county plans to operate a similar mass vaccination site with a goal of 2,000 vaccinations each day. Local pharmacies will also begin offering vaccines to eligible people once the supply allows.

With the start of Phase 1B hinging on supply, Garnar said the federal government should invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacturing of the vaccine. Last month, advisors for President-Elect Joe Biden said he plans to do that once he takes office.