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With vaccinations underway, remain ‘patient’

Happy New Year! It has been a very crazy year and 2021 is starting out a little crazy too but I am hopeful that we will see better days as 2021 progresses.

I know everyone is anxious to see an end to the COVID pandemic. When they announced the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, many people expected that the pandemic would be over instantly but this is just not the case. It will take time to vaccinate 331 million people, which is the current U.S. population.

Even though our county only has 129,000 people living here, we are getting limited quantities of vaccine from New York state who is controlling the phased distribution as vaccine becomes available. The state has a very specific plan about who will be vaccinated and in which order. They are only releasing vaccine to the counties according to that plan. You can find the full state distribution plan at https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/ as well as other helpful information about when you may be eligible to receive a vaccine.

As you open this web page, it tells you what phase of vaccine distribution we are in and who is eligible under that Phase and any dates that distribution will start.

Here is an excerpt so you can better understand: The state website states, “We are currently in Phase 1A. Eligible New Yorkers in Phase 1A are: High-risk hospital workers (emergency room workers, ICU staff and Pulmonary Department staff); Residents and staff at nursing homes and other congregate care facilities; Federally Qualified Health Center employees; EMS workers; Coroners, medical examiners and certain funeral workers; Staff and residents at OPWDD, OMH and OASAS facilities; Urgent Care providers; and Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.

Beginning Jan. 4, 2021: All Outpatient/Ambulatory front-line, high-risk health care workers of any age who provide direct in-person patient care; All staff who are in direct contact with patients (i.e., intake staff); All front-line, high-risk public health workers who have direct contact with patients, including those conducting COVID-19 tests, handling COVID-19 specimens and COVID-19 vaccinations. This includes Doctors who work in private medical practices and their staff; Doctors who work in hospital-affiliated medical practices and their staff; Doctors who work in public health clinics and their staff; Registered Nurses; Specialty medical practices of all types; Dentists and Orthodontists and their staff; Psychiatrists and Psychologists and their staff; Physical Therapists and their staff; Optometrists and their staff; Pharmacists and Pharmacy Aides; Home care workers; and Hospice workers and Staff of nursing homes/skilled nursing facilities who did not receive COVID vaccination through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program.”

It has a place to check if you are currently eligible to get vaccine at this time. That is really the best place to check rather than calling our local health department who is busy with people who are sick and in quarantine as well as helping to coordinate vaccine efforts.

If you do not have internet access, call our NY Connects Helpline at 753-4582 to find out what phase of vaccination we are in and they can direct you to eligibility information. As we heard from Chris Schuyler, Director of Health and Human Services, in a recent press release, hospitals were the first to receive vaccine. Our local health department is working very hard with local hospitals and all the entities that have vaccine, but the vaccination effort is being driven by NY State and our local DOH must follow these orders. It will take some time before vaccine is available to the general public even older adults who are living in their own homes. As we get more vaccine and progress to the other phases of vaccination, the county DOH will post information on their website and issue more press releases to inform the public when we go into each phase and who is eligible.

In the meantime, OFA is doing what we can to prepare for vaccinations for older adults who are living in the community when they become available.

Over the last few weeks, we have been in touch with the managers at senior and disabled housing and private apartment buildings to conduct a census of how many older adults are living in each building. Individuals do not need to call but we are asking housing managers to call if they have not already been in touch with us about the number of people living in their building who are over 65. We are also working with the state office to see if we can create lists of older adults who live in their own homes who are interested in being vaccinated.

It may be a few more weeks before we can start to take names and contact information for people interested in being vaccinated so please be patient and continue to wear your mask and socially distance whenever possible. Any list that OFA creates will be shared with the health department or be used to contact people when vaccine becomes available in your area.

Knowing where most older adults live in our county may also be helpful in deciding where to hold the first community vaccine clinics when those start to occur.

In any case, we ask for your patience and understanding. Please know all of our county departments are focused on the health and safety of Chautauqua County citizens and supporting our local Department of Health when they start vaccinating in addition to continued testing and quarantine of people who are infected. The work keeps getting bigger but this is what they have trained for and we have every confidence in their ability.

For the latest information on vaccination plans visit the Chautauqua County DOH website at www.chqgov.com. For more information on anything in this article call the NY Connects helpline at 716-753-4582.

Mary Ann Spanos is the director of the Chautauqua County Office of the Aging.

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