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State quashes federal county vaccine site

New York state reportedly quashed a federal plan to put a vaccination center in Chautauqua County.

NBC News reported early Monday morning that the Biden Administration had begun looking for sites for four small vaccination centers in New York state. Federal officials ranked the best spots based on a county-by-county index that measures average income, unemployment, race and a dozen other factors.

The data said Chautauqua County was a leading candidate to get vaccine shots to underserved people, but state officials disagreed.

The data said the county was a leading candidate to get vaccines out to the underserved.

State officials disagreed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to center vaccine clinics in areas with higher percentages of Black and Hispanic residents, pushing back against the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The state prevailed,” said a federal official who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

“People are sick and tired of seeing their leaders play politics during a crisis,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, in a news release. “Communities like Chautauqua County are underserved and chronically overlooked by Albany. In fact, the federal government and CDC’s own data demonstrated the area deserves a vaccination site. Governor Cuomo’s decision to unilaterally deny Chautauqua County a center has left an entire swath of Western New York without direct access to a federal or state vaccination site. These actions aren’t just misguided – they are plain wrong because they directly jeopardize lives.”

County officials were unaware how close the region came to receiving a vaccination center.

“We had no idea. I was not involved in any of this,” County Executive PJ Wendel said in a phone interview. “I’m very disappointed. It was all news to us.”

Wendel said the county-by-county index has been used as a measuring tool previously during the pandemic, and noted a population within the county that has comorbidities and would qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine.

He said it was “very unfortunate” that politics may have played a role in the decision not to bring a vaccination center to the county.

“We’re not a political pawn,” Wendel said, “we’re here to do what we can for the residents.”

State Sen. George Borrrello, R-Sunset Bay, said in response to a question from The Post-Journal that the vaccine clinic denial is part of what he said is a pattern of behavior recently by the governor. Borrello said he will work with Reed to reverse the decision.

“We’ve seen revelations in recent weeks that the governor is making decisions based on politics and not on science or good policy,” Borrelllo said. “This denial of a critically needed vaccine clinic that doesn’t serve his political agenda, is an outrage.”

Christine Schuyler, county public health director and social services commissioner, said last week during a Human Services Committee meeting that 10.9% of county residents have been vaccinated, but the county is getting only 300 of its requested 2,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines each week.

The county Health Department places its weekly order on Mondays. On Friday the state places orders with the federal government, and by Sunday evening, the county is told how many vaccines it will be allocated. Schuyler said the closest state vaccination clinics have been held in Buffalo, but she hoped a state clinic could come to Chautauqua County.

She also noted that New York has put on vaccination clinics across the state for the general public, the closest of which has been at the University at Buffalo. “I am hopeful that at some point maybe we will have a state run vaccination site in the county. Until then we’ll keep doing the best we can with the vaccine that we have and what is allocated to us,” Schuyler said last week.

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