Capital Region county leaders talk plans and concerns around COVID booster clinics


CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Governor Kathy Hochul once again shows off a new management style Tuesday, announcing the state will offer resources for COVID booster shots, but it will be up to the counties to decide what that looks like.

“I will not be micromanaging, but I’ll be giving guidance based on your input. I’ll be giving you the cover you need. I’ll be an ally, but I will not be imposing state people and locations on you without consultation,” Hochul said during a Buffalo news conference. “Tell us where there’s something that needs to be enhanced by the state and we’ll be there, without stepping on the local public health agencies.”

“Which is kind of refreshing, because I’ve got to be honest with you, after the year we’ve had at this, a lot of us had just gotten beaten down where we just started [saying] whatever the state wants to do let’s just do it,” says Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.

“We were held to a different standard than say XYZ was held to and we were threatened with million dollar fines, trying to explain where all the vaccines were going,” he goes on to say during a Zoom with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Hochul promised a dedicated $65 million for counties to rollout COVID booster clinics. Shortly after Tuesday’s address, New York State issued surveys asking what counties need to make clinics run smoothly. Wednesday, Albany and Rensselaer say the sent theirs back bringing up personnel concerns.

“We rely so heavily on our volunteers. Quite frankly we’re going to burn them out and a lot of them are retired medical folks who go to Florida for the winter,” says Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin. “You’ve got to remember, it’s not like it’ll be just January then June we’re doing this. It’s January for these folks, it’s February for these folks, so it’s a constant pipeline of people.”

“If it’s going to be every eight months, every six months, or whatever they decide, health departments weren’t set up to continually do vaccinations for our entire population. We were always set up for emergencies,” adds Rensselaer County Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas.

In Albany, County Executive McCoy says county-run sites at the Times Union Center and at the county health department cannot compare to the overwhelming need met by state-run sites.

“FEMA was here and they did a lot of shots at the Washington Armory. So if they don’t come back in, who’s going to fill that void? If the state doesn’t open up its mass sites again, who’s going to fill that void? And if it falls strictly to the counties, then we’re saying more resources [are needed],” he says.

The Crossgates Mall state-run mass vaccine site is already accepting booster shot appointments for the immunocompromised. However, sites at University at Albany and the Washington Armory have closed.

McCoy says he believes county efforts could be augmented by bringing back allowances that expired back in June.

“Empowering EMTs to give vaccines and that just helps. It gives you another arsenal of people out there that can relieve our medical Corps, or professionals, that can give shots,” he explains.

He further says the county will look into revisiting its notification system to remind those who are eligible when to come in for a booster.

“Maybe we bring our app back and you know with the information we captured, we can send something out to them that they now qualify. We have to look and see if we can redesign — which we should, we have all the data — so then to see if we can send out notifications,” he says.

McLaughlin and Wachunas also say they’re trying to take coming cold weather into account when planning, but finding indoor space will be tough.

“Hudson Valley is back in session and they’re using that space, so where do you go? Where do you put it? High schools are also utilizing their gymnasium space, so to have a mass vaccination site, you need a large footprint to do that,” McLaughlin explains.

“We really would love to transition that into our physicians offices and our pharmacies that do vaccines on an annual basis anyway,” Wachunas says.

Schenectady County responded to NEWS10 requests for comment with the following statement:

We are in the planning stages as we await further guidance in relation to the Governor’s announcement.

NEWS10 reached out to the New York State Department of Health to ask if now-closed mass vaccination sites will open again and what guidance may be coming in terms of coordinated booster clinic efforts. A representative replied with the following response:

The Department is actively working with the new administration on scenario planning for vaccine boosters. Following the process and official recommendations from the FDA, which will inform important planning measures such as eligibility, the State will be ready to work with local health departments to deploy a multi-prong effort that continues to best support the education, accessibility, and acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine statewide.

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