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Gov. Cuomo provides more details of next vaccine distribution phase; issues with supply

Gov. Cuomo talked about what it will look like when New York reaches the next phase of vaccination, however, the current phase is moving slowly due to limited supply

ALBANY, N.Y. — On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo provided more details about what vaccine distribution will look like in the next phase of distribution, which will be roughly 2.5 million people including essential workers or people over 75-years-old.

The date of that next phase - called phase 1b - has not been announced. First, the state must finish vaccinating the 2.1 million healthcare workers who are in phase 1a. By the end of the week, 911,000 vaccine doses will have been distributed to providers to be given to the health care workers.

In the next phase, eligible individuals will be able to get vaccinated through a "retail" network of providers, which will include pharmacies, federally-qualified health centers, county health departments, private urgent care clinics and private doctor networks. 

This means, when the state announces that phase 1b has begun, and announces who and when those people can get vaccinated, then those individuals may be able to get a vaccine through their doctor or local pharmacy. Again, a date for when this will happen is not yet known.

The Javits Center, and some SUNY and CUNY campuses will also be converted to drive through vaccination centers. Churches and community centers will also be part of the vaccination effort.

There are currently 636 active vaccination providers across the state. Most of these activated sites are federally qualified health centers (244) or hospitals or hospital sites (213). However, some are urgent care clinics (133) and some are local health departments (46), including Erie County. 

So far, 3,762 providers have been approved to give the vaccine, including active sites and ones that will soon become active. Of the providers approved, most are medical practices - 1,285 to be exact.

Erie County opened its first county health department vaccination clinic on Monday. The clinic is currently focused on vaccinating healthcare workers under phase 1a.

Western New York, according to the governor's office, has 351 sites approved to distribute the vaccine. The neighboring Finger Lakes region has 297 sites approved.

A spokesperson for Erie County Medical Center said the hospital has administered 78 percent of their doses allotted by the federal government and said the hospital will reach 100 percent by the end of the week.

Michael P. Hughes, a spokesperson for Kaleida Health said the healthcare network has administered 60 percent of their allocated doses to eligible staff, which is more than 5,000 people. Kaleida Health is expected to administer all doses by weeks end. 

"We share the same goal, we want to get our community vaccinated as quick as we can," Hughes said. "There are a lot of challenges, there's hurdles, logistics. Think of our organization we have 13,000 employees there is no way we can vaccinate everyone in seven or 14 days but with time, effort and resources we'll get there."

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center President Joseph Ruffalo said the hospital has vaccinated 1,300 people in a week and a half and said they will begin second doses at the end of the week.

"So far it's been going pretty smooth, it's been a pretty steady clinic everyday, the outside agencies are certainly forthcoming in terms of wanting to get vaccinated," Ruffolo said.

Cuomo is also asking that some operations involving essential workers, such as police and fire departments, consider taking part in vaccinating their own workers, to take a burden off the greater vaccination network. This would be similar to hospitals vaccinating their own healthcare workers.

However, the state needs to still finish phase 1a before essential workers and the elderly can begin getting the vaccine. Cuomo says the problem right now in getting there is supply. 

The federal government controls supply - and right now, New York is getting roughly 300,000 doses a week, or roughly 1.2 million a month from the government. 

The state has 20 million people to vaccinate, which with the current two vaccines that requires two doses per person, means the state needs 40 million doses. 

Cuomo said the federal government needs to increase supply. The governor said that some ways the government can increase supply is by acquiring more Pfizer and Moderna doses, or by approving the Oxford-AstraZeneca and/or the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

"The vaccine is the weapon that will win this war and we must move quickly and efficiently to get New Yorkers vaccinated as soon they become eligible," Governor Cuomo said. 

Additionally, the state now faces concerns with the new U.K. strain of COVID-19 that was found in Saratoga County on Monday. 

The governor says the U.K. strain is "highly problematic" and "could be a game changer" in battling the virus. 

Cuomo urged that this new strain is something that New Yorkers have to be extra careful about. Cuomo says the "numbers are frightening" regarding transmission with this strain. 

The governor emphasized that while this strain might not be more lethal, it's more transmittable between people, which he says is concerning. 

Cuomo urged that the United States should enforce mandatory testing for travelers coming into the country, just as other countries have done. 

Cuomo says that from his understanding, the current strain could overtake, or become the more prominent strain of the virus, within just a couple weeks.