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Vaccines wanted: New York's supply in question as more seek COVID-19 shots

Sharin Bonner, of Westbury, gets her first dose

Sharin Bonner, of Westbury, gets her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday at Grace Cathedral International in Uniondale. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

This story was reported by Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones, David Olson, Antonio Planas and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Colangelo and Jones.

New York City may run out of COVID-19 vaccines this week, the mayor said Tuesday, while New York State reports it has no available slots for appointments at most of the mass vaccination sites it runs, underscoring how demand has been catching up with supply by the second week of the expanded vaccination campaign.

More than 800,000 New Yorkers have been vaccinated, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday, but with millions to go out of about 19.5 million residents, some vaccine seekers are increasingly frustrated that they can't schedule the potentially lifesaving shots.

"This is just a crazy thing. This is not the way this should be rolled out," said Jessica Gurevitch, a professor at Stony Brook University who is eligible for the vaccine because she is over 65 and a teacher. "This should be rolled out in a much more competent way, and it’s being done so in a totally chaotic free-for-all."

She's had four appointments canceled, and says she's about had it.

Residents had few options Tuesday for scheduling appointments at state-run mass vaccination sites, with slots filling up quickly over the past week on the state sign-up website.

The state vaccination website showed early Tuesday evening no slots open at Jones Beach, Stony Brook University or most other sites. The only availability listed was for upstate Potsdam and Plattsburgh. The website lists availability through April 16.

A Cuomo spokesman, Jack Sterne, said: "We are working around the clock and doing everything humanly possible to get every New Yorker who wants a vaccine inoculated, and we are working closely with all providers to get them the supplies they need. No one should have their appointment canceled — but unfortunately the federal government's supply doesn’t come anywhere close to the demand here in New York."

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The state health department advised residents to contact pharmacies, hospitals and county health departments for vaccinations, but those sites are not on the state website.

On New York City's site, users can search by ZIP code or address. That includes private physicians’ practices and pharmacies, as well as city-run sites. Long Islanders who have jobs in New York City and are eligible for vaccinations can go to city-run sites.

The crunch to obtain an appointment — what some are dubbing "the golden ticket" — has become a desperate search for many because, in a matter of days, the state increased the number of eligible people from about 2 million to 7 million.

At the same time, the federal government did not only not increase the allotment of doses for New York, but reduced it this week from 300,000 to 250,000, according to Cuomo.

Sterne said the cut was made "without explanation. The problem all along has been a lack of allocation from Washington, and now that we've expanded the population of those eligible, the federal government continues to fail to meet the demand."

The race to vaccinate is a serious matter: On Tuesday, the United States surpassed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, more than any country, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the pandemic.

Appointments hard to get

Amid the shortage, some health care systems on Long Island are urging patients not to contact their doctors for appointments.

"We are notifying each of our patients individually when you can schedule your vaccination," NYU Langone, which operates NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola and physician practices, said on its website.

"This is based on both your eligibility and our available supply … Please do not call your doctor’s office about scheduling your vaccination appointment, as they are not able to schedule these appointments."

Late last week, the Mount Sinai Health System and Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care centers canceled appointments because of a lack of supply.

Dr. David Battinelli, vice president and chief medical officer at Northwell Health, said Tuesday the hospital network anticipates "getting less [vaccine] this week."

Northwell acknowledged that some appointments were canceled because the health system didn't have enough vaccines.

Mount Sinai said it canceled all appointments from Friday through Tuesday and advised it would open appointments when it restocks.

Cuomo asked Pfizer, the New York-based manufacturer for one of the vaccines, if the state could purchase doses directly from the firm. On Tuesday, the company said it could not do so without first getting the approval of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because the shots are distributed under an emergency use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES

Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

New York State expanded the list of qualifying residents to encompass people 65 years of age and older as well as others with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk. The state had previously expanded its vaccination program to include essential workers and people 75 years of age and older in addition to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, among others. The supply of vaccines is limited even as more groups are added. Hospitals will continue to prioritize unvaccinated members of the first phase, focusing largely on health care workers. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on Feb. 9.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

Massapequa Park resident Dale Pomeranz said she got the bad news via a text Monday night. Her Jan. 28 appointment in Syosset was canceled "due to a limited supply."

Pomeranz, a retired teacher, said she spent Tuesday morning unsuccessfully calling the Syosset clinic to reschedule. She managed to speak on the phone to someone working for the state, only to find out the nearest vaccine appointment was some 200 miles north in Binghamton.

She hung up out of frustration.

"I got double-whammied," Pomeranz said. "And I tried a whole bunch of other places today. And there is just nothing. It’s terrible."

Pomeranz's husband finally secured a vaccine appointment for early February at Jones Beach. She said she will tag along and keep her fingers crossed.

New York City is two days from running out of the vaccine and needing to start canceling scheduled appointments, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

"We will literally have nothing left to give as of Friday," he said.

There will not be a resupply delivery until next Tuesday, he said, meaning appointments would not restart until that Wednesday.

"This is crazy. This is not the way it should be," he said.

He called on the federal government, the state and the manufacturers to speed up the resupply.

Poll: Over a quarter not seeking vaccine

As state officials struggled with reduced vaccine supplies, a new poll released Tuesday shows 27% of New Yorkers do not plan to get vaccinated for COVID-19 at all.

That could mean trouble for achieving what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and health experts call "herd immunity" — the 75% to 90% of the population that needs to be vaccinated to essentially bring the virus under control.

Some 69% of people who responded to the Siena College Poll said they will get vaccinated, and 7% already have received the vaccine.

"More than two-thirds of those who’ve not yet been vaccinated say they plan to, but about one-quarter of New Yorkers say they don’t plan on getting the vaccine, including about one-third of Republicans, independents, voters under 35, and Black and Latino voters," Steven Greenberg, Siena College pollster, said in a statement.

Those numbers are slightly better than a nextLI survey conducted last June, which showed less than half of Long Islanders would get vaccinated.

At that time, only 53% of Long Islanders said they intended to get a vaccine once it was available, 16% said they would not and 31% were unsure.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey released in December showed 27% of respondents would "probably" or "definitely" not get the COVID-19 vaccine even if it was free and declared safe by scientists.

Since the state launched its vaccination effort, Long Islanders have been flooding the state's website and telephone hotline to register, and many have flocked to the vaccine sites since last week — including one that opened at Stony Brook on Monday.

Greenberg said 55% of New Yorkers polled said the worst of the pandemic is yet to come, while only 31% thought the worst was over.

The poll surveyed 804 registered voters from New York State between Jan. 10 and Jan. 13.

Lower virus positivity on Long Island

The statewide positivity level was 7.06% in results from Monday, with 1,157 new confirmed cases in Nassau County and 1,293 in Suffolk.

Long Island’s seven-day average dipped slightly to 7.68% on Monday, from 7.84% on Sunday. Statewide, 167 people died Monday from the virus, including 12 in Nassau and 14 in Suffolk.

Several school districts moved to remote instruction after local cases. Elmont closed Covert Avenue Elementary School until Jan. 25. Lynbrook closed Waverly Park Elementary School in East Rockaway on Jan. 14 and until Jan. 21. Hicksville Middle School students are on remote learning through Friday.

Giving the shots at Jones Beach

At the state's Jones Beach mass vaccination site, operations appeared to be running smoothly on Tuesday, with no long lines in sight.

Residents were entering the site in their cars, getting their vaccinations, and leaving within about 45 minutes.

Vaccine seekers pulled into one large white tent for check-in, were handed some papers to fill out, and then were directed to another adjacent tent where they were injected by a nurse.

After that, they were directed to park in the parking lot, and turn on their hazard lights and beep their horn if they felt any adverse reactions to the shot. They had to wait 15 minutes to see if they were having a reaction.

Workers wrote the time people who had the shot could leave on their windshield with a pink marker.

State troopers were on hand in their patrol cars for security, though the situation was calm and orderly. National Guardsmen also were helping out, directing cars and performing other functions.

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