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Analysis: State administers record 132,000 vaccine doses in 24 hours

Pharmacist Thomas D'Angelo spoke to Newsday on Thursday

Pharmacist Thomas D'Angelo spoke to Newsday on Thursday about how local pharmacies can be a good resource to help get communities vaccinated against COVID-19 — if they can get the supply. Credit: Johnny Milano

The state administered more than 132,000 vaccine doses in the 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. Friday, more than any other day since COVID-19 vaccinations began, a Newsday analysis of state data found.

There were 73,007 first doses and 59,050 second doses that went into New Yorkers' arms, also both records.

More than 2 million doses have been administered statewide since vaccinations began, including 335,347 on Long Island: 233,998 first doses and 101,349 second doses, according to state data released Friday.

"We will continue doing everything we can to get shots in arms as quickly, efficiently and fairly as possible — we just simply need more supply and now that we have competent leadership in Washington, we're actually now beginning to see that happen," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement Friday.

The state was allocated 317,700 doses for the week ending Sunday, with a 5% increase in federal vaccine allocations expected for at least the following three weeks, Cuomo has said.

Yet nearly two months after vaccinations began, difficulties in getting appointments persist, as does the lack of a centralized, easy-to-access system that could simplify a process that many find confusing and onerous, experts said.

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Tara Quimby has seen the shortcomings of the system both as the daughter of a 77-year-old Long Beach man with multiple underlying conditions who couldn't get a vaccination, and as a social worker who helps seniors who have trouble "navigating all this red tape."

"There was so much anticipation of the vaccine, and the rollout of it has been so catastrophic," she said.

Quimby, of the Bronx, said her father had been in the rehabilitation wing of Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre from Jan. 6, following a fall, until Friday.

She tried for nearly a month to get him vaccinated, but Mercy repeatedly said the vaccines are for employees, not patients, she said.

Finally, Friday evening, after her father was discharged, and after Newsday asked Mercy about the lack of vaccinations for rehabilitation patients, and after Quimby contacted several elected officials about her father's case, the hospital called to say her father could return to the hospital on Tuesday to get vaccinated.

Quimby said she was grateful for the appointment, but, she asked, "What about all these other people who have no one advocating for him?"

Dr. Patrick M. O’Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Catholic Health, which runs Mercy, said in a statement Thursday: "Working within the guidelines and eligibility requirements of the New York State Department of Health, Catholic Health has and continues to provide COVID-19 vaccines to our employees along with eligible members of the community who have an appointment."

Catholic Health officials declined to respond to questions on whether rehabilitation patients are barred from receiving the vaccine and which non-employees can get vaccinated at the hospital.

Quimby said she will hire medical transport to bring her father to the hospital for both doses. But she wondered about those who are homebound and can't get to vaccination sites.

Larry Schwartz, a former secretary to Cuomo who has helped lead the state’s vaccine distribution, said state officials are working on a program to vaccinate homebound residents.

Meanwhile, Quimby helps seniors flummoxed by a primarily web-based registration system.

"A lot of older people don’t have the internet or don’t know how to navigate this or refresh a browser 6,000 times," she said.

One key problem is that vaccination sign-ups are done through a confusing array of websites and phone numbers, with the state, counties, New York City, hospital systems and other entities each running vaccination sites, said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, an associate research scientist at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, a preparedness fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert on emergency preparedness.

"Those have not been centralized into one kind of hub" where New Yorkers can find a vaccination site near them, and it's difficult to get through on vaccination phone lines, she said. "Currently, we don’t have one functioning system. We have a variety of individual efforts to enroll people or sign people up for the vaccine."

Piltch-Loeb attributed some of the problems to "a super-strapped public health and health care workforce that has been asked to do so much, and now roll out a vaccine on top of it."

Schwartz said the crux of the problem is a lack of vaccine supply, which translates into demand for appointments far exceeding the number available, and to appointments scheduled further into the future than people want. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which could occur in the next few weeks, that could greatly expand access to vaccines, he said.

With more than 1,000 vaccine distribution sites statewide, a single registration system would be unwieldy and confusing, he said.

When an earlier version of the state vaccination website included names of pharmacies, "We got completely overloaded" with calls, said Tom D’Angelo, who runs two pharmacies, including Americare in Garden City, which has administered more than 1,200 vaccines. Other pharmacies also were overwhelmed.

The state later removed pharmacies, county health departments and hospitals from its vaccination website, relieving the pressure on pharmacies, D'Angelo said.

"You’ve got to leave it up to local pharmacies to get the word out to their own communities" through websites, social media, signs inside stores and word-of-mouth, he said, noting that vaccine slots quickly get filled, but without the previous chaos.

Distribution challenges could have been mitigated with more federal money, guidance and other support to states and localities, starting months ago, said Dr. Brian Harper, a former Suffolk County health commissioner and currently chief medical officer and vice president for equity and inclusion at the Old Westbury-based New York Institute for Technology. He said he is encouraged by the Biden administration's moves to increase federal assistance.

Harper said federally qualified health centers, which serve many low-income people and other underserved populations, should have been used more extensively in the vaccine rollout.

"The infrastructure was already there to get it to them," he said. "They already have a good rapport with the community," which trusts FQHCs for their health care needs.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it will start sending vaccines directly to FQHCs.

Piltch-Loeb said there should be more sites at community-based organizations, because many seniors and low-income people cannot get to mass vaccination sites, and the groups already have a relationship with them.

Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne said there have been nine community-based "pop-up" sites on Long Island, and 70 statewide, with more to come.

With Matt Clark

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