Chairwoman voices frustrations over supply, as state’s vaccination program to expand next week
By Terry Duffy
The Lewiston Senior Club and Town of Lewiston Senior Center hosted 2nd District Niagara County Legislator Becky Wydysh, chairwoman of the Niagara County Legislature, on Tuesday. She visited to offer some insight to an issue of demand among residents: When and where can I get vaccinated?
Wydysh was joined by 1st District Legislator Irene Myers, who appeared via Zoom. Myers was out of town recently and was adhering to COVID-19 isolation protocols with regard to travelling.
“I know that many of you have questions, about COVID, about the vaccine especially,” Wydysh said. “It has been very frustrating trying to get those appointments.”
Wydysh said a representative from the Niagara County Health Department was hoping to accompany her to Lewiston, but was busy in Lockport conducting a COVID-19 vaccine point-of-distribution that day. “They’re going to give about 700-800 doses today. They couldn’t be here because they are far too busy; we actually have some doses to give out.”
Wydysh said the county remains frustrated over the state-run vaccination process and how it is administered.
“I know you are going to hear stories where people think we’re helping our friends and family, that you have to know somebody to get in an get an appointment. I can tell you that, here in Niagara County, that is not the case,” she said. “I can’t get an appointment either.”
Wydysh told attendees she has been unable to get an appointment for her elderly parents.
“That is how hard it is right now,” she said, noting, “It’s been a difficult process; there are millions and millions of people in New York state that want a vaccine and just can’t get an appointment yet because there are not enough doses to go around.
“Be patient; know that your county team is working to get as many doses as we can from the state, and to get them to you as soon as we can. We really are trying.”
Wydysh told the crowd she faithfully watches Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press briefings on TV. She said the vaccination process begins on the federal level.
“New York state then divides up that allocation and sends it to all the counties, the hospitals, the pharmacies, all of those places that you’re hearing are doing the vaccinations,” Wydysh said.
Niagara County has administered about 4,500 doses of the vaccine as of Tuesday through its NCDOH-operated PODs. Wydysh said the county began its own vaccine distribution, first to its law enforcement, first responders and essential workers. Per state directives, pharmacies have been assigned to service those aged 65 and older. Hospitals, meanwhile, have been concentrating on health care workers.
The eligibility list is expected to expand come Monday.
“Starting Feb. 15, we will be able to take individuals who have comorbidities, such as serious health issues that they need the vaccination for,” she said.
To view the list of health issues, determine eligibility status or find state-run vaccination sites, visit www.ny.gov/vaccine or call the state’s vaccination hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829). The NCDOH is online at www.niagaracounty.com/health.
“That’s where most of you will be able to find your appointments to get vaccinated,” Wydysh said. She noted the county has also been accepting seniors at its DOH-operated PODs “when space is available.”
“That’s how allocation works. That’s state ordered; that’s nothing that we can really change,” she said.
Though the state’s eligibility process will be expanding, Niagara County remains limited as to how many vaccines it is able to distribute.
“New York state tells us they get 300,000 vaccinations a week, but we have 10 million people who are eligible in New York. The numbers just do not work,” Wydysh said.
“I can tell you that, for the past three weeks, Niagara County has asked the state for 3,000 doses each week. Two of those weeks we got 400 each week and one week our order was canceled completely,” she noted.
Wydysh explained that, under the state program, getting a vaccine is not mandated. Cost is not an issue, either. The problem is what she called “appointment frustration.”
“That’s been frustrating for us. The county trains for this; we run mass-vaccination clinics when things like hepatitis are an issue,” Wydysh said, referencing an earlier effort in response to a hepatitis breakout in a restaurant and the subsequent vaccination process.
“We were prepared to handle this. We had a 150-page plan; we knew exactly how we wanted to start, how we wanted to roll this out. We had many, many sites across the county that we planned to use. … The state and the governor had other plans.”
“We have to do what the state tells us their plan is, and what our plan is, in it,” she said. “We will continue to fight for as many doses as we can get, to hold as many clinics as we can. But it’s frustrating on our level, too.
“We’re trying to get you the appointments, so please know we’re trying to work for you, too.”
She closed by advising Niagara County residents, “If you are looking for an appointment, call 211. Niagara County contracted with them to be able to help. … If you call 211, they will take your information over the phone … and they can help you make that appointment. That is what their job is.”
“It’s not a perfect system, but instead of checking 20, 30 or 40 websites and phone numbers yourself, if you just call 211 those operators are going to be to help you do that,” she said.
Regarding 211, the Niagara County Department of Health said the service “can direct or aid callers in navigating where/how to locate vaccine as well as aid a caller by completing online registration to secure an appointment when online registration is available.”
As of Tuesday, Wydysh noted there had been a total of 14,162 positive COVID-19 cases in Niagara County, with 13,007 residents listed as recovered. As of Wednesday, there were 941 active cases, with 22 people hospitalized.
“Still too many, but compared to other areas we are doing better now that the holiday surge is done,” she said.
Active coronavirus cases in Niagara County, as of Wednesday. (Image courtesy of the Niagara County Department of Health)