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Vaccine eligibility expands to 16 and up

America’s COVID-19 vaccine problem will shift from availability to willingness within the span of a month.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, discussed the national COVID-19 vaccination effort during a visit to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown on Monday. Schumer said federal stimulus bills in December and March have helped make COVID-19 vaccines more available than they were initially, and the Senate majority leader said he expects availability to improve even more very quickly.

“There’s lots of places,” he said. “We’ve made them available. You don’t have to travel to the Bills stadium or anything to get them. And they’re free, and there’s going to be so much available that in about three weeks you’ll just be able to show up at one of the places and get a shot if you’re 18 or over. We expect that will happen by about May 1, that there will be enough vaccines for everybody. That means, by the beginning of summer, if everyone takes the vaccine, we can be back to regular life, pretty much.”

Schumer’s take on Monday was quite different from the tone struck last week by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who made an impassioned plea to Americans last week not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19, warning of a potential fourth wave of the virus and saying she has a recurring feeling “of impending doom.”

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” she said. “But right now, I’m scared.”

Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, appealed to elected officials, community leaders and every day Americans to maintain social distancing measures and mask wearing.

On Monday, however, Schumer spoke in terms of returning to normal as vaccinations increase as well as the need to vaccinate quickly to blunt the impact of mutations to the COVID-19 virus that are springing up around the country.

“We have to do it quickly because there are new variants. The variants won’t work if you have the vaccine but if you don’t have the vaccine, these mutations, if you have a big enough population multiplying it then there’s more trouble,” Schumer said. “So please do it. It’s safe, folks. It’s safe. My parents, praise God, are 97 and 92 and they got one of the Pfizer vaccines with two doses. They’re fine. They didn’t even have side effects. If they can do it everyone can do it and I hope everybody will.”

A campaign aimed at encouraging New York state residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is expected to roll out this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

The statewide “Roll Up Your Sleeve” ad campaign will be shown on television and online. The ads, set to begin appearing Wednesday, were directed by Contagion screenplay writer Scott Burns, and shot at New York City’s Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Cuomo’s announcement comes as vaccine eligibility expands today to all New York state residents over the age of 16 — nearly a month earlier than President Joe Biden’s May 1 deadline for states to enact universal eligibility.

“The vaccine is the weapon that will win the war, but only if we all take it, and starting April 6, all New Yorkers age 16 and older will be able to get vaccinated,” Cuomo said. “Since the start of this critical phase of our fight against COVID, we have made it our top priority to bring the vaccine to the communities that were hit the hardest by the virus, and with the ‘Roll Up Your Sleeve’ campaign, we are helping ensure that no community gets left behind in the vaccine distribution process. As universal eligibility going into effect, we will continue to work with local leaders to make sure all New Yorkers have access to our vaccination sites.

“I also want to remind everyone that universal eligibility for the vaccine does not mean we are back to business as usual. The truth is millions of our neighbors still need to get their shot, and we are still in a footrace against the infection rate, so it is imperative that we do not let down our guard and we continue exercising safety protocols.”

The Cattaraugus County Department of Health announced Monday it is hosting vaccination clinics at the Jamestown Community College campus in Olean. The clinic will begin Wednesday and run through Friday of this week.

The vaccine being administered on Wednesday is Moderna and requires a second dose May 5. The vaccine being administered Thursday is the Johnson & Johnson and is the single-dose administration.

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, 42,258 residents within Chautauqua County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 23,697 have completed their vaccine series. In Cattaraugus County, 21,294 have received one dose, while 13,557 have completed their series.

In related news, the Chautauqua County Health Department reported 119 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, from data collected Thursday through Sunday. There are currently 168 active cases, five people with the virus in the hospital, 401 in quarantine and a seven-day positivity rate of 1.5%.

To date there have been 8,380 confirmed cases of the virus throughout the county, 8,070 recoveries and 142 virus-related deaths.

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