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Demand low, with many statewide still 'hesitant' about getting vaccine

People walk to and from the Sayville Ferry

People walk to and from the Sayville Ferry at the Cherry Grove dock on Friday, with many returning to social activities as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted. The state is winding down its mass vaccination operations to focus on areas with lower inoculation rates. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

New York will begin to wind down some of its mass vaccination sites over the coming week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday, with the closures mainly happening upstate, as the number of people inoculated for COVID-19 has grown and demand has decreased.

Five vaccination sites on Long Island will continue to operate for now, but starting Monday sites in Corning, Oneonta, Potsdam and York College in Jamaica, Queens, will start to close.

Resources used at those sites will be shifted to other areas where vaccination rates are low, Cuomo said. The transition will take from weeks to months.

"Our statewide progress has been remarkable, but we still need to get more shots into people's arms, particularly in areas that are still lagging on vaccinations," Cuomo said in a statement. "We have to go where the need is greatest, and so many of our mass sites will gradually start downscaling so that we can use our resources to target communities where vaccination rates are still low."

The state-run vaccination sites that will remain open on Long Island are Stony Brook University, Suffolk County Community College, SUNY Old Westbury, Stony Brook Southampton and Jones Beach.

Nassau County has shuttered four of its sites, and has one left, county spokeswoman Vicki DiStefano said. Nassau is continuing to run temporary pop-up sites.

Suffolk officials did not respond to questions about their vaccination sites.

Mass COVID-19 testing sites are also shutting down: the one at Stony Brook University was shuttered Friday, a reflection of what state officials said was an 88% drop in demand for drive-through tests.

Officials and medical leaders said there were a variety of reasons the mass vaccination sites are starting to close, as the number of people showing up declines, and because vaccines are more widely available in pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

At this point, "We’ve gotten all the low hanging fruit," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

"The group that has not received the vaccine, it’s not because they don’t have access to it. It’s because many of them are hesitant and don’t want to take it."

Doctor: 'Untrue rumors … about side effects'

Tom D’Angelo said that a few months ago his home infusion pharmacy Americare in Garden City was swamped with demand for the shots.

"We were doing hundreds in a day" at the pharmacy and in places like group homes, said D’Angelo, president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York.

Now, he said, "We struggle to fill appointments."

He has either 11 or 22 appointments a day, but only two days a week. He waits to schedule appointments in batches of 11 or 22, because the Moderna vaccine typically comes with 11 doses per vial.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vial has six doses, while Johnson & Johnson has five, said Onisis Stefas, chief pharmacy officer for New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health. Once open, the doses must be used within six hours, he said.

Doctors sometimes may not be able to find five to 10 patients to get the vaccine within six hours, Farber said.

"It’s not like it was in the beginning," he said. "You don’t see a huge demand at this time in New York. You’d be lucky if can get five of your patients in to do it."

D’Angelo said most people he sees now for vaccinations are ages 18 to 40. A few college students have told him, " ‘I need to get this because I can’t go to school’ " without it, he said. Some universities are requiring the vaccine to attend fall classes.

Farber said the difficulty in convincing many people to take the vaccine is in part because of "untrue rumors out there about side effects and problems with the vaccine," especially on social media. More pharmacies have the vaccine than a few months ago, but "it’s much less available in doctor’s offices," he said. "It has not been picked up the way people thought it would."

"There’s a whole lot of hurdles you have to jump through, and most physicians don’t want to get into that business," Farber said, referring to storage requirements and other protocols. "It’s too difficult and they don’t want to throw it away."

Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, a pediatrician in Huntington, said she spends a lot of time talking to COVID-19 vaccine skeptics "trying to debunk what they’ve heard out there" that is false.

"We let them know we’ve given it to our children, and reassure them it’s the way back to normalcy, and that the vaccine is safe and effective," said Meltzer-Krief, whose 12-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter got vaccinated.

Meltzer-Krief said Allied Physicians Group, with which she is affiliated, now has designated offices that administer the vaccine, rather than having each doctor do so.

Numbers continue to drop

Meanwhile, COVID-19 indicators continued to drop, with the seven-day statewide average for positivity hitting 0.39%, Cuomo said Friday.

The seven-day average was 0.43% on Long Island and 0.36% in New York City. The statewide rate remained at a record low and had declined for the 74th consecutive day, the state said.

The number of new confirmed cases was 30 in Nassau, 27 in Suffolk, and 196 in New York City. The daily level of new positives was at 0.34% in the state, with 110,387 test results completed Thursday.

Throughout the state, a total of nine people died on Thursday of causes related to the virus. One of the deaths was reported in Nassau.

Cuomo on Tuesday lifted pandemic restrictions on a wide range of activities and locations, including restaurants, bars, stores, barber shops offices, and venues with a capacity under 5,000 people.

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