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Western New York health officials puzzled by secondary role in COVID vaccinations – WGRZ.com

Posted: February 17, 2021 at 12:53 am

After counties spent months getting ready, state government bypasses them to set-up its own system

BUFFALO, N.Y. Western New Yorks public health officials are playing an important role in providing COVID vaccinations to residents. It just wasnt the role they had prepared for.

For months, local health departments tweaked, and in some cases, practiced the roll-out of their individual mass vaccination plans. Since 9/11, every county has been required to have a plan to vaccinate large numbers of people in case of a public health emergency.

We were ready as soon as the vaccine was ready but unfortunately that was not the (states) initial plan, says Dr. Kevin Watkins, director of the Cattaraugus Countys Public Health Department.

What the state government did instead when vaccines arrived was launch its own statewide system. Senior state health officials describe as a hub system with county governments in a secondary role.

Initially, hospitals were tabbed to be primary players with making sure healthcare workers were vaccinated. Pharmacies were assigned seniors, those 65-years and older. State government oversees operations regionally through its hub and also operates pop-clinics around the state largely to insure poor and minority communities have access to vaccinations.

Counties were chosen to inoculate essential workers. A recently added responsibility is vaccinating people with health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID.

2 On Your Side contacted public health officials in all eight counties of Western New York. It was unanimous. All of them said they had confidence, if fully implemented, their county mass vaccination plan would have worked.

We are told that sentiment is common with local health officials from across the state.

Watkins is also president of the New York State Association of Public Health Officials. He says members of the association have expressed to him their disappointment and frustration about the state bypassing their vaccination plans.

We have been planning for this final piece of the pandemic and although we were ready, we had to come off the bench for vaccinating our community, Watkins said.

So, why did the Cuomo administration create a statewide vaccination system and reduce the role of county health department that had been planning to do the job?

Late Tuesday afternoon, senior health officials talked with 2 On Your Side on the condition of anonymity.

Officials explained because the state had prior successes with its regional approach to COVID testing, it was thought a similar regional approach with state government in charge would work most effectively.

The importance of counties in the state plan was repeatedly stressed and counties are expected to take on larger roles as more vaccines become available.

There was also this from Jack Sterne, a spokesman with Governor Cuomos Office:

This is an apples and oranges comparison the COVID vaccine supply is extremely limited, theres prioritization guidance, it requires ultra-cold storage, and is a two shot regimen, so we could not solely rely on past planning. The State picked the most relevant elements of prior plans that made sense here like mass vaccination sites used during H1N1, targeted distribution to healthcare facilities to serve their workforce, and scalable parts of the annual flu vaccination effort such as pharmacies and operationalized them to fit the unique requirements of COVID. As we expanded eligibility, weve expanded our partners.

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Western New York health officials puzzled by secondary role in COVID vaccinations - WGRZ.com

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