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Local hospitals prepare for COVID-19 vaccinations

Hospital source confirms vaccinations have begun locally, but NYS orders hospitals not to give specifics. Niagara Co. has a plan in place to vaccinate the public.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is beginning to be delivered across the country, including Western New York, local hospitals are preparing to vaccinate health care workers.

According to hospital sources, workers in local health care facilities in so called high risk occupations as defined by the state, started getting shots on Monday.

According to New York State, the first health care worker to receive a COVID-19 vaccine was an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens.

Hospitals Ordered Not Disclose Certain Details

However, we also learned that in order to receive the vaccines for their staff, the state forced hospitals to sign a memorandum of understanding, which contains a confidentiality clause that prohibits hospitals from disclosing specifics regarding their vaccine allotments.

In a statement to 2 On Your Side, New York State Department of Health spokesperson Gary Holmes said, "The purpose of the Memorandum of Understanding is to secure commitment from participating facilities in all aspects of the State’s plan for vaccine distribution, which include planning and delivery requirements, vaccine administration, and vaccine storage. Due to the potential for security concerns, the MOU requires facilities not to disclose quantity on hand or whether they are one of 90 facilities statewide designated to store vaccine."

The Erie County Medical Center says they have spent weeks preparing, and have created a task force to oversee vaccinations. ECMC released the following statement Monday afternoon:

“As has been reported, vaccines will be available for ECMC caregivers in the coming weeks. We have been working over the past several weeks to prepare for this and we have established a Vaccine Task Force that will oversee and coordinate the process of providing the vaccine to every member of our ECMC Family. The priority of staff will follow very prescriptive guidelines provided by the NYS DOH. Our frontline workers have been there for us and we are thrilled we all can be there for them – providing this vaccine, so they can continue their lifesaving work with added protection.”

Local Vets Among Those Who Will Be First

VA Western New York Healthcare System (VAWNYHS) announced it has been selected as one of 37 VA sites to receive initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, based on its ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and store the vaccines at extremely cold temperatures.

In a statement it said, "in accordance with Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, VA Western New York Healthcare System will begin vaccinating VA health care personnel and Veterans in VA’s long-term health care facilities."  

VAWNYHS said additionally that this will be followed by a general implementation phase, "when large supplies of the vaccine will be available to Veterans who want to receive one. Our goal is to offer it to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated. As more vaccine becomes available, we will announce it to schedule appointments with eligible Veterans."

Nursing Home Inoculations Soon

Nursing home patients and staff are also among the first in line to receive the vaccine.

2 On Your Side reached out to the The McGuire Group, which operates several facilities in Western New York. It said that it was "fortunate to be among the first to receive the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine designed to protect our residents and staff."

"Our facilities are anticipating its arrival within the next seven to 10 days. The vaccine will be administered in-house by a representative from Walgreens, which has contracted with CMS and CDC. All staff and residents must give consent in the form of a phone call, email or in writing before receiving the vaccine. Responsible parties for the residents have been contacted, and information has been posted on our website at www.mcguiregroup.com. Walgreens will be providing our facilities with vaccination clinic dates. On the first clinic day, the vaccine will be administered to all residents who consented and 1/3 of the staff who consented. On the second clinic day, all of those who received the first dose will receive their second dose, and another 1/3 of the staff will receive their first dose, with the second dose to follow, as appropriate. The final 1/3 of the staff will receive their inoculations at a date that is yet to be determined. While we’re in this process, we will continue all of our current infection control practices, as recommended by the CDC, until otherwise directed."

Niagara County has Plan for Vaccinating General Public

In New York State, it may be months before members of the general public will be eligible to be vaccinated. At that time, county health departments are expected to play an integral role in the effort.

Niagara County's Department of Health has already formulated a plan which would involve drive through vaccination sites that would operate much like the COVID-19 testing sites that have been up and running for months.

"We are planning to set up these operations as soon as vaccine is available," said Elise Pignatora, Director of Public Health Planning and Emergency for the county.

Much like the drive through testing sites, Pignatora believes the vaccination sites will operate by appointment only, as the state is expected to come up with additional guidance to determine which members of the general public will go first.

"When our open points of dispensing begin, we will be covering the priority groups as dictated by New York State's covid playbook," she said.

While most might figure that comorbidities would be the key factor in determining those priority groups, it is important to note that Governor Andrew Cuomo has already said that in New York State "social justice issues" will play a major role in prioritizing vaccine recipients.

Niagara County also hopes to get volunteers to help in its effort to vaccinate the public in what will be nothing short of a massive undertaking.

"We would love to have the community be part of our operations," said Pignatora, noting that volunteers won't have to have medical experience to help out.

"We can utilize individuals for check ins, for traffic flow, and even post observations. Those are just some of the some support roles in a drive through open pod model."

Meanwhile, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has received a NUAIRE -86 degree Celsius (-122.8 Fahrenheit) ultra-low temp freezer ahead of receiving vaccines this week. 

“We are so fortunate to have ordered this piece of equipment several months ago as there is now a four or five-month backlog to place an order,” said Memorial President & CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo.  “We’ve received it just in time for the arrival of the vaccine and we are ready to safely store and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to our staff, nursing home residents, and community.”