SCHENECTADY — Schenectady County has received its first batch of COVID vaccine, and will inject it into qualified recipients Thursday at the central branch of the public library in Schenectady.
Mass public vaccination is something for which Schenectady County health officials and medical personnel have been rehearsing over the course of more than a decade.
Thursday’s clinic will fall far short of what they can do, and what they would like to do — there are just 100 doses, and only the highest-priority members of the population (designated Tier 1A) can receive them, such as high-risk health care personnel and nursing home employees.
“We can only vaccinate the 1A people but it’s a great day for the county,” Schenectady County Administrator Rory Fluman said Wednesday.
If the county shows it can effectively administer this first vaccine allocation from the state, it will be in line to receive further batches of the precious commodity, Fluman said, starting with 200 doses next week.
The effort is an adaptation of the pandemic response plan the county has long had in place, on orders of the state.
“This goes back to lessons learned from H1N1,” Fluman said referring to the 2009 pandemic that killed an estimated 12,500 Americans.
Each year, he said, “We would run preparation, phone bank drills and setting up points of dispensing.”
These previously arranged points of dispensing, or PODS, include Schenectady, Scotia-Glenville, Niskayuna and Mohonasen high schools, as well as the Karen B. Johnson Library, which will be used Thursday.
County public health nurses register the recipients and administer the vaccine; the process takes about 15 minutes per dose.
So if the county halted contact tracing and other public health tasks, and diverted all 20 nurses to vaccination, about 80 people per hour could be vaccinated, and as many as 640 in an eight-hour day. Allowing for breaks and any delays, the total would easily top 500 a day, Fluman said.
These numbers are known with some certainty because the process has been rehearsed repeatedly over the years, with drills as recently as last month.
The details of the framework originally devised aren’t all applicable to the COVID crisis, however.
“At that time, no one could have envisioned that we’d only have 100 vials and that we can’t give it to the public,” Fluman said.
Another potentially complicating factor: The vaccine is fragile and must be stored at around 100 degrees below zero.
That, however, proved not to be a problem at all. SUNY Schenectady County has a portable super cooler in one of its labs that is going into service for the vaccination effort.
“It literally looks like a rolling refrigerator you might see in a restaurant,” Fluman said.
In other COVID-related news Wednesday:
- Albany County reported three new COVID deaths as well as five previous deaths that the county Department of Health had not been notified about. The five previous deaths all were at the Provincial House of the Albany Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham. Coupled with four other deaths at the religious order that were previously reported to the county, a total of nine nuns in the congregation died of COVID-related causes from Dec. 1 through 22. Obituaries indicate they were ages 78 to 98.
- The Mohawk Valley and Capital Region lead the state’s 10 regions for COVID test positivity, at 9.4% and 9.1% respectively on a seven-day average. The state as a whole stood at 6.4% Wednesday.
- Schenectady County leads the Capital Region with an 11.1% positive rate and Schoharie County leads the Mohawk Valley region at 11.5%.
- The state recorded 144 additional COVID-related deaths, bringing its official pandemic death toll to 29,905. A Schenectady County resident in her 50s was among them, as were the three Albany County residents and a Rensselaer County man who was the 24th resident of the county-run nursing home to die. The state additionally reported that three residents of Fulton County and one of Montgomery County had died due to COVID-19.