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Cuomo: COVID-19 vaccination rollout for essential workers can be eased with internal programs

Some Buffalo area agencies say they are prepared.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — While the COVID-19 vaccination effort for health care workers throughout New York State has been underway at hospitals for the past month, state officials are now looking down the road for the next round of shots for essential workers before it would actually start for the public.

Erie County is up and running with its COVID vaccination program for health care workers to supplement hospital immunization programs. 

Overall the state estimates that about 900,000 front line doctors, nurses, and other medical staffers out of the total 2.1 million have received the shot so far. So there is plenty more work to be done with concerns about the slower than expected pace for some hospitals which Governor Andrew Cuomo has questioned. 

"For those hospitals that have it already - use it or lose it - you won't get anymore," Cuomo said. "And you can be fined. Going forward we just won't use those hospitals again. There are other hospitals - use the hospitals that are better at administration."

We are not aware so far of any issues with hospitals here in Western New York. 

But now Cuomo is also pressing for another class of essential workers to start considering immunization efforts. Namely police, firefighters and eventually even teachers in the coming weeks. 

"To the extent we can have the essential workers use their own employees or their own health system provider to do their own vaccines — that removes the burden from the retail system if you will — it removes them from the hospital system," Cuomo said.

Cuomo added, "The larger police departments, Buffalo Police, Albany, Rochester, Syracuse — I think many of the larger police departments in the state. We have over 500. But many of the larger ones can handle the vaccine themselves. Same with the fire departments, EMS, EMT people can do the vaccines. So I'd like them to start thinking about that now because I'd like to reduce the burden on the hospitals."

Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo says they should be able to handle it for their 1,000 member staff — specifically 800 police officers. 

Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo says the city's 700 firefighters are already getting shots with appointments at local hospitals and their trained Emergency Medical Technicians may assist Erie County in giving vaccinations. 

Then Cuomo extended his thoughts to others deemed essential. 

"The teacher's union, the transit workers union, all these frontline essential workers — please now think about organizing your own system," Cuomo said.

Buffalo Teachers Federation president Phil Rumore says he's not sure how they would do that, he does note that schools have nurses, but they may still have testing issues to work on when hybrid classes resume.. 

Helen Tederous of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority says they have their own medical unit and already have a plan to handle vaccinations of their staff with qualified emergency staffers.