Vaccine supply uncertain for county health officials

Benjamin Joe, Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
·4 min read

Mar. 27—LOCKPORT — Vaccine supply is running hot and cold during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Niagara County Public Health Director Dan Stapleton, there is no way to tell what the state will allocate to the county on a week-to-week basis.

While more than 30,000 doses of vaccine were steered into Western New York this week, Stapleton said he depends on what the state divvies out and he doesn't know what other agencies and counties are getting from the WNY supply.

"We don't know ahead of time," Stapleton explained. "We got 1,600 last week and this week, but the week before that we got 1,000; a couple months ago we didn't get any for the entire week. So it's really difficult to plan ahead."

One of the other beneficiaries of vaccine in Niagara County is the state-run vaccination site at the Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls. Stapleton said the site shows there's a cooperative effort — between the county's Kenan site, ENH and the state — to get vaccination numbers at or above the state average. However, he said, the county has the capability to vaccinate thousands of residents and he doesn't want his supply to be an issue.

"I welcome that site (the Niagara Falls state point of distribution). That site is critically important to the residents of Niagara County. We want that site to do as many as possible, we want them to be successful, because it helps all of us," he said. "I just want to make sure our supply isn't being shorted in order to supply another location."

Stapleton said the county health department's Point of Dispensing (POD) will remain at Kenan Center Arena for another week, while a drive-thru vaccination clinic will be setup at the Transit Drive-In for operation starting April 6.

"When I do the drive-thru, I expect to be able to do about 4,000 people a day, 4,000 vehicles a day, once we get enough vaccine," he said.

Stapleton also noted that the county health department has focused on "underserved" populations, in part by allocating some of its vaccine shares to Eastern Niagara Hospital, which then reached out to its partners to identify eligible residents in need of vaccination.

"We reached out to the Dale Association, the Lockport schools, and the Starpoint schools, and the Newfane schools," ENH spokesman Carolyn Moore said. "As we get more vaccines we will reach out to other agencies and school districts."

Moore noted that last week ENH received 200 doses from the county and then reached out to physicians who serve rural communities, asking for referrals. Most of the folks who received a dose are residents of rural communities: Barker, Newfane, Olcott, Appleton, Wilson, Middleport and Gasport.

Another way Niagara County residents are getting vaccination appointments is by word of mouth, according to Stapleton.

"If you go on our Facebook page, the amount of people sharing it is astronomical," he said.

Public Information Officer Kevin Schuler said examples of how word-of-mouth spreads news could include when teachers were notified of appointments for education professionals. Schuler said he heard anecdotally from sources that after learning of the appointment availability, these teachers sent that information out over their server and soon, the entire building knew

"There's no direct outreach to these groups, it's just the groups themselves follow the county page," Schuler said. "They get an alert and they send it and it starts to grow exponentially from that point."

So far, Stapleton said, no advance notice has been given by the state when it's opening up vaccination eligibility to additional groups, and that creates concerns for him.

"We find out when the public finds out. The problem I have is that we increase the eligibility by thousands and thousands of people, but there's not a thousands-of-thousands increase in (local vaccine supply)," he said. "I think it creates an expectation for people when eligibility increases and now they're eligible, but there's no vaccine increase."

Two things Stapleton wants the public to know about his and his team's efforts:

"The first thing is our plans are flexible and able to change in the middle of a clinic to make sure we're serving whoever we can," he said. "The second is, if I get more vaccine, I'll get more people done every day."

And finally, a message to those who are holding out.

"People say, 'What's the best vaccine I can get?'," Stapleton said. "The answer to that is: the best vaccine you can get right now is the one you can get the quickest."