Local officials urge patience as COVID-19 vaccine hits NY

Dr. Michelle Chester prepares the first public dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, administered Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. Oswego County health experts said while the immunization is great news, there's still a long way to go before the pandemic is over.

First dose of COVID inoculation given Monday; Oswego Health says shots could arrive in county as early as next week

NEW YORK — A downstate nurse became the first person in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Monday as part of a campaign to inoculate front-line health care workers, and Oswego County officials are praising the development and asking for patience from the public.

Onlookers applauded after a doctor gave registered nurse Sandra Lindsay the injection at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens.

"I feel hopeful today. Relieved," Lindsay said after the injection, which was livestreamed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. "I feel like healing is coming."

Oswego Health Chief Operating Officer Michael Backus said the organization anticipates receiving the first dose of the vaccine for employees as early as next week.

“We are actively working on a policy and we have a plan in place to store and distribute each type of vaccine when they become available,” Backus said.

Oswego Health operates more than a dozen health facilities in Oswego County, including the 164-bed Oswego Hospital and Fulton Medical Center. That infrastructure, Backus said, is prepared to play a “critical role in the vaccine distribution plan” both as a major employer vaccinating its staff, and “also caring for our residents in our skilled nursing facility and onto the public at large.”

“As more information becomes available regarding the rollout of the vaccine distribution from federal and state agencies, we will incorporate that information into our plans to maximize its effectiveness throughout the Oswego Health system,” Backus told The Palladium-Times on Monday afternoon.

Backus said Oswego Health would look for  “further instruction from the New York State Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how else we can assist our community.”

He promised Oswego Health would “work in partnership with everyone to ensure the vaccine reaches as many people as possible.”

Cuomo, who watched remotely, called it the first shot given in the state's vaccination effort. Health care workers at other facilities in the city and beyond were also getting the shots Monday.

"This is the light at the end of the tunnel," Cuomo said. "But it's a long tunnel."

Hospital workers nationwide begin unloading frozen vials of COVID-19 vaccine Monday.

Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City's health commissioner, said they did not know their overall allotment of vaccines in the coming months, but had been told to plan for 465,000 doses over the first three weeks. Health care workers who work on the same unit will be vaccinated on a staggered schedule to account for possible side effects, he said.

Other hospitals around the country, from Rhode Island to Texas, unloaded precious frozen vials of vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech, with staggered deliveries set throughout the day and Tuesday. A few other countries have authorized the vaccine, including Britain, which started vaccinating people last week, and Canada, which began doing so on Monday.

The first vaccinations came on the same day the number of dead crossed the 300,000 threshold, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number rivals the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. It is more than five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. It is equal to a 9/11 attack every day for more than 100 days.

Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, the first of nearly 3 million doses being shipped are a down payment on the amount needed. More of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive each week. And later this week, the FDA will decide whether to green-light the world’s second rigorously studied COVID-19 vaccine, made by Moderna Inc.

While the U.S. hopes for enough of both vaccines together to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the month, there won’t be enough for the average person to get a shot until spring.

Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang told The Palladium-Times on Monday that while he “wished it was the end” of the pandemic, there is still a significant amount of work — and waiting — to do.

“It will take months to get the adult population all covered,” Huang said, noting the vaccine is only approved for people over the age of 18.

“We have a large population of school children we need to protect,” he said. The Oswego County Health Department would also be spearheading vaccine distribution and administration, according to Huang.

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