ITHACA, NY -- According to Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, the biggest bottleneck in the COVID vaccination distribution is just getting people to show up.
“That’s what’s going to hold us back,” he said at the Jan. 6 town hall. “We need people in the eligible population to get vaccinated […] We want to use every vaccine we have.”
Kruppa said that some people who are eligible for the vaccine have said they feel guilty getting it before people who may be more at risk of serious symptoms from COVID-19, but he urged people to push past that.
“Don’t feel guilty. Go get vaccinated,” he said. “That’s how you’re going to help people who are not eligible — by getting vaccinated and eliminating an exposure point. You’re one less place they can catch COVID from.”
Dr. Martin Stallone, president of Cayuga Health Systems, agreed.
“It’s your personal duty to get the vaccine when it’s your turn,” he said. “We still have a fair number of individuals who decline it. We lament that fact but that’s a reality. Share your stories so people can convince their friends.”
Kruppa added that he was confident in the safety of the vaccine.
“It went through a rigorous process,” he said. “While it may have seemed fast, it was still a complete review by the federal government, and New York State did its own review too. The experts there signed off on it. Vaccines are a key public health initiative; we’ve been using them for decades. It’s just another opportunity to use the science we have.”
Currently groups 1A and 1B are eligible for the COVID vaccine. The doses are available either at the clinic at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, or at Kinney Drugs for those ages 75 and older. A list of those that are part of groups 1A and 1B can be found on the Health Department’s website.
The goal right now, Stallone said, is to vaccinate around 1,000 people per day. Currently, the distribution point is at the old Sears store at the Ithaca Mall. In the future as we move through the phases and the vaccine availability opens up to the general public, Kruppa said it’s possible there could be more sites.
“We have a medical countermeasures plan we’ve been working on for 20 years, and that includes with identifying appropriate [vaccination] sites around the county,” he said. “We’ve talked to school districts about gymnasiums and with our higher ed partners. But the hospital has a relationship with the mall and with the large open spaces it creates efficiency. It’s really a win-win-win to have that available right now, but we do have other spaces we can spread out to.”
As of the Jan. 6 town hall, Stallone said the county had received about 5,000 doses of the vaccine, and he anticipated about 95% of those will have been distributed by Jan. 8.
“We’re very agile so that we can make sure we’re giving as many people doses as we can,” he said.
Kruppa and Stallone also addressed the status of positive cases locally and the current hospital capacity.
“We might see an increase related to Christmas, and that’s not wholly unexpected,” Kruppa said. “One of the most important things we have to talk about is we’ve seen more people in the hospital, more people in ICU and more deaths. Those things go hand in hand.”
Stallone said Cayuga Medical Center is currently at 55% capacity, with 73 of 132 available beds currently in use.
“We don’t want to use this capacity, it’s just a buffer,” he said.
They also discussed the protocol at nursing homes after multiple local facilities have reported outbreaks, with Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home reporting 11 deaths since late November.
Kruppa said when a positive test is collected it goes straight to the state and county databases, but once it’s identified that the positive belongs to a nursing home resident, that information is turned over to the New York State Department of Health for a review of infection control. However, the positive cases from nursing homes are still counted in the county’s daily numbers report.