ALBANY — Albany Medical Center will serve as the COVID vaccine hub for the Capital Region when the first members of the general public begin to receive the shots, potentially in late January.
The state Department of Health will oversee the campaign, but local leadership will be provided by one hospital in each of the state’s 10 regions during Phase 2 of the vaccination campaign.
Phase 1, which began this week, targets medical personnel for their likelihood of contact with infected persons and nursing home residents and employees, because of residents’ great vulnerability to the virus.
Phase 2 shots will be reserved for essential workers and for members of the general public at the highest risk in the pandemic.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this latest piece of the vaccine plan at a news conference Wednesday.
In a prepared statement afterward, Albany Med said:
“We are beginning to plan for the next phase of vaccine administration. We will work closely with local and regional stakeholders and connect directly with our communities to ensure safe, equitable, and efficient distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to all residents in the region. The vaccine is safe and effective, and we encourage all members of our community to become vaccinated when it becomes available.”
Cuomo said the ten hub hospitals must complete their plans for state DOH approval by the first week of January. These plans must allow for fast and efficient delivery and administration of the vaccines, he said, and must incorporate a fair and equitable strategy that focuses on communities with lower vaccination rates and poorer health outcomes.
Members of minority communities have been infected and killed by COVID-19 at rates higher than those in white communities statewide and nationwide during the pandemic and have, broadly speaking, had less access to health care through most of the nation’s history.
Cuomo has made addressing this inequity a priority during the vaccination campaign, but also noted the effort will be complicated by the distrust many Blacks and Latinos hold for the medical world and vaccinations.
Cuomo said Wednesday that with pending approval of the Moderna COVID vaccine, sufficient supplies should be available in New York to start Phase 2 in late January.
Meanwhile, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine is being administered to critical care workers in Phase 1. Select members of the Albany Med workforce on Monday became the first Capital Region residents vaccinated.
Ellis Medicine in Schenectady on Wednesday began a program with the state Department of Health to vaccinate not only its own employees but those of other hospitals across the Capital Region.
“The first hospital employees to receive the vaccine are staff at high risk of exposure, such as those working in COVID-designated units, Intensive Care Units and Emergency Departments,” Ellis said in a prepared statement. “All of us at Ellis are honored to play an important role in this critical public health initiative, and we thank our dedicated staff for their extraordinary efforts as they developed this program to meet the needs of our region.”
Also Wednesday, the state Department of Financial Services directed insurers to cover all costs of COVID vaccinations for their members. The move is redundant, as state Insurance Law already mandates insurers provide cost-free immunization, but emphasizing the fact that it’s free is another step in convincing the public to get vaccinated.
This isn’t a minor issue — Cuomo has noted repeatedly that at least 75 percent of the population must be vaccinated to develop a meaningful degree of herd immunity and end the pandemic, but 50 percent of the population plans to not get the shots.
To that end, the state launched a website — www.ny.gov/vaccine — that is the first step in an education campaign to get New Yorkers to support vaccination.
Updates provided Wednesday from the Capital Region and eastern Mohawk Valley region:
- Two Schenectady County women in their 90s died of COVID, as did two elderly nursing home residents in Rensselaer County and a Saratoga County resident.
- The Capital Region reached another new single-day high for COVID patient census in its hospitals, 306; this compares with 205 on the busiest day in April, during the first wave of the pandemic.
- Schenectady County surpassed 4,000 positive tests on Tuesday — 90 new confirmed infections gave it a cumulative total of 4,014 and pushed its seven-day positive average to 8.1%.
- Montgomery County (population 49,221) is on track to be the next county in the region where more COVID tests have been administered than there are residents; the cumulative total stood at 48,707 on Wednesday morning. Columbia, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties already have passed this milestone.
- Schoharie County residents tested positive at a rate of 18.6% Tuesday, highest in the state by a wide margin except for Hamilton County’s 20%. However, the sample size is extremely small — only 118 people were tested in Schoharie County and just 15 in Hamilton County, compared with 2,463 in Albany County.