Vaccinations continue, but supply shortages limiting local efforts

Dave Stinson receives a COVID-19 vaccination from Ellen Hoist at a vaccinaiton clinic held by the Oswego County Health Department at G. Ray Bodley High School in Fulton on Jan. 16.

OSWEGO — Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine is far outweighing supply across the nation, and officials say the limited number of vaccines allotted to Oswego County is the most significant obstacle in the local inoculation effort.

Thousands of Oswego County residents have received the first of two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, but many more have been unable to secure appointments at pharmacies or clinics due to limited supply. County officials continue to ask residents to be patient as the slow nationwide roll out continues, and an uptick in vaccine supply is not anticipated in the near future.

Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said local health officials can’t plan more than a few days in advance due to the limited supply and a lack of advanced notice for incoming vaccine shipments. Huang has repeatedly said supplies of the COVID-19 vaccines are the county’s “biggest challenge,” and limited supply has been coming from the state.

“We cannot plan for next week, because we don’t know when and where the vaccine will come,” Huang said. “So it’s hard for us to plan.”

Huang said there’s no indication from state and regional partners the situation will change in the immediate future, and vaccine supply is likely to remain an issue. Vaccine supply is the biggest obstacle for public health officials, Huang said, but the obstacle is not exclusive to Oswego County or central New York.

“Our county I think is doing very well,” Huang said, noting local pharmacies, health care providers and the county Health Department have combined to administer close to 5,000 first doses.

Over the past two weeks, the Oswego County Health Department has vaccinated more than 1,400 people over the course of several clinics.

The county Health Department held its first large-scale clinic last week, vaccinating nearly 1,000 people throughout the course of a single day. Staff from other county departments, volunteers, Fulton firefighters and the Fulton City School District aided county health officials in coordinating and orchestrating the clinic, in which senior citizens, first responders, front line health care workers and teachers were vaccinated.

Huang noted county health officials have been practicing mass vaccinations for a decade, and the assembled team effectively put that training into use.

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, commended county health officials for their efforts, but emphasized in a statement Thursday it would take time to get the vaccine to everyone who wants it.

“Just vaccinating those who are currently eligible will be a months-long process, made especially challenging due to the limited vaccine allotments we receive,” Weatherup said. “From week to week, we don’t know the amount of vaccine that will be sent to us until the allotment is ready to ship. This makes it very difficult to know the size of the clinic we can hold and the number of appointments that will be available.”

Weatherup said the county is committed to getting the vaccine to all eligible residents as quickly as possible, noting local officials are in constant communication with state health officials and the governor’s office to request more vaccines for the county. He said more clinics would be scheduled and publicized as the vaccine becomes available.

Appointments for another clinic planned for Saturday in Fulton filled up quickly, Huang said, and it’s unclear when the county will receive another shipment of the vaccine.  

“After that I don’t know, because we don’t know when the vaccine will come,” Huang said, noting residents can monitor the county website for information as it becomes available.

Currently available vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are two doses, the second required roughly a month after the first for maximum protection against the coronavirus. For those receiving the vaccine, both doses must be from the same manufacturer.

Starting as early as next week, residents who were among the first locally to receive their first dose of the vaccine should be getting a second dose.

County officials said vaccinations are ongoing for the front line health care workers in the first phases of the state priority program, as well as for individuals 65 and older, those who are immune-compromised, first responders, public safety officers, teachers and other school staff, in-person college instructors, childcare workers, public-facing grocery store workers, transit workers and individuals living and working in homeless shelters.

There are no restrictions in place prohibiting individuals from receiving the vaccine in another county  if the person is eligible and can schedule an appointment.

To check your eligibility visit https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/ or call the state vaccination hotline at 1-833-NYS-4VAX.

Individuals 65 or older who do not have computer or internet access, or require assistance, to schedule an appointment can contact the Oswego County Office for the Aging weekdays at 315-349-3483.

Cases of COVID-19 have risen drastically in recent months, but Huang expressed some optimism the post-holiday season spikes could be coming to an end. Though the post-holiday peak could be nearing an end, Huang said residents are still at risk of contracting the virus and should continue to protect themselves.

The most recent county Health Department data released Thursday indicates 1,019 active cases of the coronavirus in Oswego, with a total of 5,269 since the pandemic started nearly a year ago. More than 70 Oswego County residents have died as a result of COVID-19, a number that has more than quadrupled since mid-December when the county aligned its reporting policies with the state.

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