Capital Region mass vaccination sites see fewer people coming in for shots

PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTEJustine Feder-Lailer administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Brandon Mandalal of Schenectady at the Guyanese Community Center on March 13. Targeted outreach to communities has helped bring Schenectady County to the fourth-highest level of vaccination in the state.
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PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE

Justine Feder-Lailer administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Brandon Mandalal of Schenectady at the Guyanese Community Center on March 13. Targeted outreach to communities has helped bring Schenectady County to the fourth-highest level of vaccination in the state.

SCHENECTADY — That scarcity of COVID vaccine we all talked about so much in March? The impossibility of finding an appointment? No longer.

Mass vaccination sites in the Capital Region now have more doses than takers.

Early Friday afternoon, the big state-run clinics in Albany and Guilderland both had scores of appointments available for later Friday afternoon, a scenario that would unthinkable fairly recently. And late Friday afternoon, they had a combined total of roughly 1,500 appointments available over the weekend, 8,000 over the next seven days.

On the smaller scale, corporate websites indicate many available appointments at Capital Region pharmacies.

Meanwhile, Albany and Schenectady counties, with two of the highest vaccination rates anywhere in the state, both have hosted under-attended clinics in recent days.

Officials in the two counties said Friday they will be pivoting their strategies away from the bigger central PODs, or points of distribution, to smaller popups dispersed throughout communities.

“The giant POD thing is over,” said Keith Brown, acting Schenectady County public health director. “It’s amazing how quickly things change.”

“I think this is signaling a shift that we’re seeing not only in Albany County but throughout New York state,” said Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, Albany County health commissioner. “People that were very interested in getting the vaccine, people that are early adopters, people that are confident in medical science stepped forward to get their vaccine.”

The effort now turns to those who are reluctant to get the vaccine, or for whom vaccination is inconvenient.

Brown said inconvenience is the easier target, and will be addressed by Schenectady County health officials before reluctance.

“There is a segment of the population, if it’s convenient and accessible to them, they’ll get it done,” he said. Neighborhood popup PODs will address this, including more in the rural areas.

There’s also a segment of the population that’s homebound. The county is increasing its home visitation efforts for these people.

“And then, after that, you have the people who don’t have the vaccine confidence,” Brown said. “That’s going to be the toughest crowd to crack.”

Schenectady County this week began allowing walk-ins without appointments at its PODs in hopes of getting vaccine in more arms.

“We have unclaimed appointments at pretty much every POD we have,” Brown said.

This new approach will include the first-ever POD at Schenectady High School from 10:30 to 4:30 Sunday, which originally was to be for students, only by appointment, age 16 and up.

But as of late Friday, only 203 appointments had been made for 650 available doses.

So the county is not only taking student walk-ins, it will vaccinate their parents without appointment, as well.

Meanwhile, Albany County had just 319 takers at a 1,200-dose POD at the Times Union Center on Thursday.

“So we are hitting that wall,” County Executive Daniel McCoy said during his briefing Friday. “Most people who wanted to receive the vaccine have received the vaccine. The way people are not getting the vaccine now is alarming.”

Albany County also will shift its efforts toward smaller neighborhood PODS, he said, will increase education efforts, and has launched an Instagram campaign — #IGotMine — to reach the younger demographic.

STATE EFFORT

The effort at the state level has been focused on making vaccine available as widely as possible and convincing as many New Yorkers as possible to take it. State officials have been partnering with local organizations to help move this process along and have opened more than 200 local popup PODs to help make it happen.

There has been no mention of a change of strategy with the state’s mass vaccination sites. They remain part of a multi-pronged approach to the vaccination campaign, with supply and demand monitored daily and adjustments made accordingly, the state Department of Health said Friday.

Other facilities are seeing the same situation as the two Capital Region sites: Over 2,000 appointments available next week in Oneonta, 3,600 in Binghamton, 4,700 in Suffern, 5,500 in Utica and 12,000 in Syracuse.

As of Friday, 43.4% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose, ranking the state 12th highest among the 50 states and first among states with more than 10 million residents, federal data show. Nationwide, 41.3% of Americans have had at least one dose.

The DOH said Friday the campaign to convince New Yorkers to get vaccinated has been ongoing for months but it’s a carefully nuanced effort — studies show it’s critical not to shame vaccine-hesitant people or ridicule the misinformation or disinformation that has shaped their opinion.

That continues broadly, and specific focal points are added as the need arises, such as with the recent pausing of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while rare side effects were evaluated.

THE NEXT STEP

Brown said Schenectady County worked very hard to reach a 51.5% first-dose vaccination rate as of Friday, fourth-highest among the state’s 62 counties, and would continue to follow the same strategy, with some modifications.

Targeting a particular community and then getting the leaders of that community to spread the word has been very successful, he said.

“We’ve done a series of PODs at different denominations that are central to our Guyanese population,” Brown said. The county will hold another Saturday at the Schenectady Hindu Temple.

The Brandywine Masjid partnered with the county to set up a public test site near the mosque and Imam Shah has helped schedule vaccination for many members of his community, Brown said.

County library staff helped get vaccine appointments for people who didn’t have computers or couldn’t work them.

The county teamed up with the Black Nurses Coalition to do vaccination for Black church congregants.

“It’s those kinds of relationships that feel valuable to people,” Brown said, and they will be key to moving the vaccination rate higher.

“The real work now happens in neighborhoods, in faith communities, in community organizations.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Residents of counties in and near the Capital Region had received at least one dose of vaccine in the following percentages as of Friday morning:

  • Albany 50.8%
  • Fulton 32.2%
  • Montgomery 41.4%
  • Rensselaer 45.6%
  • Saratoga 50.1%
  • Schenectady 51.5%
  • Schoharie 36.5%

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