NY Department of Health "not able" to provide on camera spokesperson to answer questions

Posted at 5:52 AM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 15:38:33-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Across New York State, COVID-19 vaccine is being delivered in limited quantities. Few doses are being allocated for distribution sites around western new york. We know that because many clinics have had to be canceled and vaccine appointments are hard to find.

But that's as far as we know.

For weeks now, we've been trying to get answers about this vaccine and when you might be able to expect a first or second dose.

We've received little to no help from the state.

The New York State Department of Health is "not able" to provide a spokesperson to the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team, to answer on-camera questions about the COVID 19 vaccine and its distribution to Western New Yorkers.

It's something we brought to the attention of Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul.

We asked why the State Department of Health turned down our request for an interview.

"Let me ask the state for you," Hochul said.

But it was Hochul's own press secretary who suggested we reach out to the State Department of Health -- directly -- to get this interview. He told us the Lt. Governor would not be available to speak with us one on one.

"I haven't denied that I'm willing to ask," Hochul said. "I will continue to ask on your behalf."

In total transparency, we provided general questions to the Department of Health--at their request--so we can get a well-researched spokesperson to speak with us.

"What questions can we answer for you," wrote the spokesperson last Wednesday.

Then Thursday, without explanation, we're told "Unfortunately we cannot accommodate an interview at this time."

The spokesperson did say our general questions would be answered.

Those questions weren't answered until late last night; hours after the Department of Health learned we were publishing this story.

We asked:
Why aren’t primary care physicians getting access to the vaccine so they can start vaccinating their patients in 1a and b?

The State DOH answered:
At this time our supply is week-to-week and is currently not enough to meet increased eligibility. Local health departments should be focused on vaccinating essential workers, while the state focuses on the 65+ eligibility group that was added without any mention of increased supply by the former administration.

Naturally, we have some follow up questions, but we're not able to get someone to answer those questions on camera.

Hochul herself had few answers on January 19, when the state's clinic opened at UB South.

We wanted to know how many doses would be available.

"I can't give you numbers because it changes by the day," Hochul said. "This federal government system has not been working. It is not giving us the doses. 300,000 was just cut back to 250,000 a week."

So as leaders at the top level blame the federal government, while deflecting to departments at subservient levels and even they won't answer questions, you're left wondering just who is steering this ship.

The only state sites with vaccine appointments available right now are at SUNY Potsdam and the Plattsburgh International Airport.

In response to this story, a spokesperson for Lt. Governor Hochul said "The UB site is stocked, operation is ongoing, and there is a consistent allocation being made."

Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said Thursday morning that the county has had to cancel 9,300 vaccination appointments and is still working on a plan to reschedule those appointments when the county receives more doses from the state.