Lawmakers demand NY put COVID mass vaccine sites in Orange, Rockland
Though the number of Rockland residents who've had one vaccine dose is 14.3%, mirroring the state average, legislators say it doesn't mean they got the shots in Rockland.
NEW CITY – State lawmakers want to mandate state-run COVID-19 mass vaccination sites for any county outside New York City that has a population of more than 300,000. Those parameters fit just two counties, and neither currently houses a state vaccine clinic: Rockland and Orange counties.
"This is a grave issue that our two counties face," Sen. James Skoufis said on Monday as he, Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski stood in a municipal park across from Main Street from the Rockland County Courthouse.
Skoufis, a Democrat whose 39th District includes parts of Rockland, Orange and Ulster counties, said his office has been deluged by constituents seeking help in finding vaccine appointments.
"This is the second biggest crush" of calls he's received in his nine years in the Legislature, he said. "The first, by the way, was last year dealing with unemployment issues."
Reichlin-Melnick said the process has been confusing for many, especially older seniors. Each pharmacy manages its own appointments. Health departments sometimes have vaccinations for seniors and sometimes solely concentrate on essential workers, depending on weekly guidance from the state.
There's a question of equity, too, Reichlin-Melnick said. State-run sites offer vaccination information in multiple languages, where an independent pharmacy may not.
Traveling for shots
As of Monday, New York state reported that 14.3% of the population had received at least one dose of the two currently used two-dose vaccines; 7.9% of New Yorkers have completed the vaccine series.
In Rockland County, according to state numbers, the number of people who've had one vaccine dose is also 14.3%; 8.4% have undergone the complete series.
That doesn't mean those Rockland residents received shots in Rockland.
"Data on New York’s vaccination progress to date shows all vaccinated individuals according to their county of residence," according to New York State's COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker dashboard.
"Orange County is significantly short," Skoufis said. "It stands to reason, we are even further away from those vaccination sites."
State data for Orange County show that 9.8% of residents have received a first vaccination dose, while just under 5.3% have had both recommended doses.
Rockland and Orange residents have reported going to Westchester, Orange and Bronx pharmacies, as well as state-run vaccination sites beyond the Westchester County Center, including the Javits Center, Jones Beach and various upstate sites.
"I've talked to seniors who are driving to Binghamton," Reichlin-Melnick said, where a state vaccination site is located at SUNY Binghamton.
'We need to get this up and running'
SUNY Rockland Community College has expressed a willingness to deploy its Fieldhouse, Reichlin-Melnick said.
"RCC was a plan of ours since December," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said Monday as he visited a county vaccination clinic at the Fire Training Center that tapped vaccine supply from Refuah, a federally qualified health center that has two health centers in Ramapo and received a total of 2,000 doses last week and this week, while the county received 1,200.
It's more than just limited supply, Zebrowski said. "We need to get this up and running with Johnson & Johnson coming," he said, referencing the company's single-dose vaccine that was approved by the FDA Saturday evening and was being shipped to states. "We need to make sure vaccine is spread equitably."
Zebrowski reflected on Monday marking one year of COVID-19 detected in New York.
"Rockland consistently trended as one of the top infection and death rates," he said. "We are the epicenter of this pandemic right here in Rockland County."
Day echoed his words, stating that 11% of the county tested positive and Rockland was second in fatalities.
"We deserve to have a mass vaccination site based on that," he said.
Orange County's overall COVID testing positivity rate is at about 9.3%, but certain communities like Newburgh, New Windsor and Monroe continue to experience high rates of virus.
The three Democrats said they were eager to work with their Republican legislative colleagues who have also advocated for vaccine access in the two counties.
"It's a shame that it had to come down to legislation," Day said.
Tell your story
From Pound Ridge to Potsdam or from Pomona to Plattsburgh, The Journal News/lohud wants to know if you’ve traveled long distances to get a coveted COVID-19 vaccine dose and if the hundreds of miles were worth the trip. Westchester, Putnam and Rockland residents can reach out to David Propper at email@example.com if you’re interested in telling your story.