Herzig, Bliss Frustrated
By CHRYSTAL SAVAGE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Both men represent the county on the Mohawk Valley Regional Control Room, which briefs local officials weekly on the state’s COVID-19 response.
The county’s not getting “proportionate distribution,” the amount based on its relative population to the rest of the state, Herzig said in an interview.
“It’s frustrating and worse than we thought,” Bliss said. “Things are really starting to unravel.”
The local situation reflects what’s happening in the Mohawk Valley Region, which – one of 13 districts in the states – is only getting 2 percent of three million vaccines available statewide, Herzig said.
According to Dr. Diane Georgeson, the City of Oneonta’s public health officer, that’s because, for now, “distribution is not based on regional population, but rather by the regional eligible population at this time.”
Not only is it getting less vaccine, the region has only administered 76 percent of the vaccine allocated, the lowest of the 13 regions, she continued.
“Appointments are filling up within Otsego County as soon as they’re available,” Georgeson said, so there is demand.
Currently, the control-room briefing is weekly. “This is our main source of information at this point,” said Bliss, but “there’s no question that people are not being kept well informed.”
There is some “good news,” however, according to Herzig and Georgeson: The federal government is starting to distribute vaccines directly to pharmacies.
As a result, “we should start to see more people getting appointments and ultimately vaccinated,” Herzig said, although pharmacies so far are only allowed to vaccinate people 65 and older.
“Eliminating the middle man will help significantly to streamline the process, speeding up distribution and communication,” Bliss agreed.
As of Monday, Feb. 15, eligibility was supposed to be expanded to people under 65 who are pregnant, obese or suffering from cancer and other maladies.
But there’s no word yet how the vaccine will be administered to those people, Herzig said.
Georgeson believes that will happen through hospital systems like Bassett. But Bassett spokesman Karen Huxtable-Hooker said the local network hasn’t yet received directions.
Meanwhile, Herzig and Bliss say discussions are underway to have SUNY Oneonta declared a special site for vaccinations, as have SUNY Poly in Utica and SUNY Binghamton.
“We’re trying to make it happen,” said Bliss, but “until we have more vaccine, this won’t be a reality.”
Georgeson also hopes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose and no cold storage, is on the way, but won’t arrive until April.
The current vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – must be kept in extreme cold and require two shots to achieve 95-percent efficacy.
“The public should be reassured that at least Moderna and Pfizer are effective against other strains of the virus, despite data that shows the AstraZeneca vaccine to be less effective against the South African strain,” Georgeson said.
Neither the AstraZeneca nor the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been cleared yet for use in the States.
Despite there being no concrete data as to the longevity of the immunity Georgeson is “confident” that, after receiving the vaccine, it will remain effective through July when the new administration says they will have vaccinated near to all Americans.
“We’re not sure if we’re looking at boosters down the road, but there is no reason to doubt the efficacy of the vaccine in the near term,” Georgeson said.
“There is great initiative and in cooperatively working together, people should feel hopeful that more vaccines are coming,” Georgeson said.
But Herzig said, for now at least, “The circumstances are evolving and there is no way to know what the future holds; when, how or if things will change.”