The Finger Lakes COVID Vaccine Task Force was formed to help the region contend with a supply and demand issue at the start of vaccine rollout. As summer begins in the region the role has really changed, according to Dr. Nancy Bennett.
The task force is helping to answer questions and serve as a point of contact for residents across the Finger Lakes as it handled rollout. The task force is co-chaired by Bennett and Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Mike Mendoza.
“The role of our task force has really changed,” Bennett said last week. “It started out smanaging a very small supply of vaccine. There was very high demand, and now that’s changed quite a bit.”
She is referring to the “vaccine hesitancy” seen in some parts of the community. While seniors have largely been vaccinated, the focus has shifted to vaccinating young people and middle aged people who do not have confidence in it.
Around 50% of the region’s population has received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Around 60% have received at least one dose of their vaccination—if receiving one of the two that requires two shots. “We’ve been tackling hesitancy on a zip code by zip code basis,” Bennett explained, noting they use data to determine where future efforts are needed. This is how the task force determines where to put vaccine clinics, how to mobilize those efforts, and best configure messaging to help residents understand the benefit of being vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We’re really trying to make sure that we have lots of opportunities for people to get vaccinated in their neighborhoods, but also really trying to talk to people about what is causing them to be concerned about getting vaccinated trying to reassure them about the safety of vaccination, the effectiveness,” Bennett continued. “We’re also trying to point out that the world is going to change and most people are going to be vaccinated and the expectation is going to be that people need to be vaccinated. So we need to kind of get to a place where it’s the norm rather than unusual.”
Large venues throughout the Finger Lakes have said they will require proof of vaccination in order to attend events like concerts and shows.
One major takeaway the task force has learned over the last several months is who people hear from is important. “That’s been a big lesson-learned in recent months. “We’ve learned that people need to hear about this vaccine from people they trust. Lots of people want to hear from someone they trust, and the people they trust, most are their doctors, and secondly, their family and friends. And so we really need to get the message out through every venue possible at every kind of person. I mean, every time I talk to a group, I say, Okay, you guys are the ambassadors, we all need to be out there talking about this. And we need to be honest, we need to be transparent, we need to be clear.”
She says there has been a big pivot in strategy and doctors throughout the Finger Lakes region are working hard to keep their patients informed about the vaccine. That said, a major question even vaccine leaders like Dr. Bennett have involves distribution of the vaccine to those private practices.
“Initially they chose to focus on vaccinations at large venues where a high-number of people could be vaccinated,” she recalled of the early days. “Now, I think there’s recognition that the people who have want want to get vaccinated, those large venues aren’t it. Now it’s time to move on to people who would rather get vaccinated in their doctor’s office and rather hear about this from their own doctor, rather than a public heath worker at one of those clinics.”
She says the regional and state leaders involved in the process are working hard to distribute the vaccine to more places, but at this point it’s not clear when it will be available in those offices.
The bottom line: Vaccine rollout has been a work in progress—and will continue being so as the region moves forward.
“I think what everyone can expect is that we’re going to be going more grassroots,” Bennett added of the vaccine rollout effort. “We really need to get into communities, we need to talk to people, and we need to work with community based organizations, whatever they may be cross our whole region. And so I think that, you know, there will be more opportunity to have one on one conversations, I think there will be more opportunity to get a vaccine at a place you feel most comfortable. Whether it’s, you know, your school, your firehouse, your doctor’s office, I think we’re really going to be trying to figure out how to go to the people, help the people to make an informed decision, and really make it easy to access vaccine.”
The Seneca County Health Department is continuing to hold clinics on a weekly basis to get residents vaccinated. To learn more visit their website.