NY county leaders want Cuomo to let them help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution

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ALBANY — New York county government leaders say Gov. Cuomo ignored their own years-in-the-making mass vaccination plans — and is now stonewalling their ability to get the shots out fast. 

“We can get vaccines in the arms of people in a safe, efficient way but instead it’s a convoluted, disorganized mess for no reason at all,” Republican Dutchess County Executive and President New York State County Executives Marc Molinaro told The Post Wednesday. 

“We’ve got to go at lightning speed. There isn’t anyone in America who didn’t know sometime in this crisis that we would have a vaccine. They didn’t even activate the base infrastructure, and we don’t know why,” he said of state leaders, Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, arguing the state’s roughly 300,000 vaccines administered over the last three weeks is anemic and unacceptable. 

Molinaro and other county leaders are also frustrated that the state’s eligibility list for those who can get the shots is so limited, and should be opened up to other first responders like police and firefighters as well as those 75 and older as soon as possible. 

County governments are required by the state’s public health law to annually develop and submit vaccination plans to the state, including details like community points of dispensation, practice drills and administration protocols directly connected to local health networks.

They annually administer flu shots, and in the context of the pandemic, have coordinated COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and other enforcement activities.

“It’s part of our activation plans, especially how to reach vulnerable and disproportionately impacted populations. All of that is coordinated and approved by federal and state resources and done with the state Department of Health,” said Steve Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties.

“Counties have a robust emergency preparedness system that requires us to engage in communicable disease control.” 

Before the coronavirus vaccine was approved by the FDA and arrived in the Empire State mid-December, county officials had been participating in regular calls with state health officials planning for the vaccine’s arrival and eventual distribution. 

“All of us had been working on our own plans and coordinating with each other,” explained Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, a Democrat.

“We had those plans at the regional level ready to go but we were not freed up or told we could execute them. We were waiting to hear from the state, and we were waiting and waiting and waiting.”

But then the state designated hospitals as the sole administrators of the COVID-19 shots to the first round of Phase 1-A, eligible healthcare workers primarily working on frontlines in the ICU or serving coronavirus-infected patients — vexing county officials. 

Ryan said he began developing blueprints for two county-run distribution sites in Kingston and Ellenville, which he unveiled Tuesday, in preparation for the next several phases of vaccine administration.

Once fully operational, Ulster will be able to perform up to 50,000 vaccinations on a monthly basis.

He said earlier this week the state started ramping up communication, after Cuomo’s announcement Monday that the state is setting up a network connecting pharmacies, federally-qualified health centers, county health departments, private doctors and urgents care centers.

Acquario told The Post that some vaccine doses have started to trickle in — 46 county health departments out of 62 have received allotments to help supplement the hospitals and pharmacies completion of 1-A administration to healthcare workers and individuals living and working in nursing homes.

“Counties must be recognized as the public health experts we are in our communities. It takes an incredible level of coordination and communication from the federal to the state government, down to the community level — and the counties have been left out of that,” he said. 

“All we’re saying here is we want to work with the governor and implement his plan. The buck stops with him.”

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi defended the state’s actions.

“We need to coordinate their plans in a way that fits with the state’s efforts so we don’t have 62 different counties going off 62 different plans. In the beginning it made sense to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers where they worked in the hospitals,” he said. 

“As we continue to make the vaccine available to more and more New Yorkers we have 46 county health departments that are ready to be set up within the next two weeks. It’s all hands on deck.”

Meanwhile, the Cuomo administration has refused to provide updated vaccine administration and distribution information on a daily basis — but according to the CDC as of Wednesday at 9 a.m. New York has administered 311,797 first doses of the two-dose vaccine — which comes out to 1,603 shots per 100,000 New Yorker.

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