St. Lawrence County health care providers and government officials scrambling to keep up with vaccine demand
BY ANDY GARDNER and JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
St. Lawrence County health care providers and government officials scrambled today to keep up with demand for COVID-19 vaccinations as educators, law enforcement personnel, and people over age 65 became eligible.
All available appointments for vaccines at Kinney Drugs were booked within hours and county officials were setting up five mass vaccination sites throughout the county, including one at SUNY Potsdam.Teachers were asked to hold off on getting the shots until school districts could set up clinics. As of this afternoon, Walgreen’s was not offering vaccines.
The county Public Health remained shorthanded and sought medical and non-medical volunteers to assist with their vaccine distribution efforts.
The dramatic increase in vaccinations came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo increased the number of people eligible. Phase 1B started Monday and includes first responders, law enforcement, corrections and probation officers, in-person college faculty and instructors, childcare workers and school faculty and staff. When originally announced, Phase 1B included people over age 75, but Tuesday, Cuomo lowered the age to 65, citing a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control.
Phase 1A has been ongoing since December, primarily for only frontline health workers, nursing home workers and nursing home residents.
Meanwhile, for those unable to snag an appointment for a vaccination, the state is offering an online tool where anyone can check to see if they are eligible for vaccinations. Even if people aren’t eligible, they can sign up for email alerts or go back and re-check as new phases open. That website can be viewed at https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/
There is also a hotline for New York state residents to schedule vaccination appointments. It’s available 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days per week: 1-833-697-4829.
Appointments at Kinney’s, only for those age 65 and older, have to be scheduled through their website at kinneydrugs.com.
As of late this morning, all of their appointments were booked. A notice on the page said more appointments will open as more vaccine becomes available, and people should not call stores to check for availability.
“Response has been tremendous and currently, all appointments are booked; however, additional appointments will open up as more vaccine becomes available,” the Kinney’s notice says.
“We ask that you please do not call your local store, as they are focused on serving patients and will have no additional information. Instead, please check this site often. Thank you so much for your patience!”
Mass Vaccination Sites
Dr. Dana McGuire, St. Lawrence County Public Health director, told the county legislature Monday night SUNY Potsdam will host one of five regional mass vaccination sites.
Health officials are also hoping to set up similar operations in Ogdensburg, Massena, Star Lake and Gouverneur to handle what will undoubtedly become much greater demand as more residents become eligible to get vaccinations.
Also now eligible for vaccinations are in-person college faculty and instructors, employees or support staff in childcare settings, licensed, registered, approved or legally exempt childcare providers, anyone working in public transit, public-facing grocery store workers and anyone living or working in a homeless shelter.
Today, she did not immediately return requests for information about when more vaccinations would be delivered to St. Lawrence County.
Faculty and Staff
St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES and all districts were working with local hospitals to set up on-site vaccination clinics for educators and school staff.
Although some faculty and staff have taken the initiative to get vaccinated on their own, officials say school employees should hold off for now.
“Public school employees should not be going through the process on their own,” St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Director of Communications and Marketing Rebekah Mott said.
Mott said that details are still being hashed out but said that setting up the on-site clinics will allow for a faster rollout on the whole and allow better tracking and reporting on district numbers.
She asked for patience for those who are eager to get the vaccine.
“I know people don’t want to wait. But this is a good thing, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s going to be a system that’s easier for teachers and staff and it will be more efficient,” she said. “The hospitals are telling us that once we get everything in place it will be easy.”
Mott said the districts have the space to allow for mass vaccinations. With a focused segment of the population, they can get the job done in a more streamlined process than setting up individual appointments, she said.
Mott said she’s unsure of the amount of vaccine currently available in the county, but more is expected soon.
While the governor indicated it could take up to 14 weeks to complete phase 1B, Mott said she expects school employees to be vaccinated much sooner.
The county needs medical and non-medical volunteers for their vaccine administration efforts as even more people become eligible to receive the vaccine.
Medical volunteers are needed to assist with pre-vaccination screenings, vaccine administration, and post-vaccination monitoring. Needed volunteers in this category include: registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, licensed physicians, licensed physician assistants, licensed pharmacists, midwives, dentists /dental hygienists, podiatrists, EMS/community paramedicine or nursing students and physician assistant students. Governor’s executive order 202.86, released 12/28, also extends permission to retirees who are medical professionals and still in good standing the ability to volunteer
Non-medical volunteers are needed to assist with operations and activities at the vaccination sites, such as registration and check-in, data entry, greeting and routing participants, traffic flow, and other administrative tasks.
Volunteers will work in collaboration with the Public Health Department and local hospital systems to vaccinate county residents.
Those interested in volunteering can register through ServNY, a registry of health care and mental health professionals, as well as community residents who wish to volunteer during a public health emergency or major disaster.
If interested in registering to be a medical or non-medical volunteer, contact the county Public Health Volunteer Coordinator at [email protected] or 315-229-3407 or go to www.stlawco.org for information on the process.