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Shipment confusion leaves Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center without COVID-19 vaccine

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center
Posted at 9:41 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 22:21:18-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center was prepared to receive hundreds of doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week, but that shipment was instead delivered to Catholic Health.

The news was unwelcome for NFMMC's President and CEO Joseph Ruffolo, who's team announced last week that they acquired a freezer to adequately store the vaccine.

As a result, high-risk NFMMC employees who anticipated receiving the vaccine this week have been instructed to drive to Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston or Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo for the shot while Niagara Falls Memorial works with the New York State Health Department to clear up the confusion.

"Many workers don't have availability of transportation to get to other facilities to get vaccinated," said Ruffolo. "Many of them walk or take the bus to work, so having [the vaccine] on our campus would certainly increase the compliance level, particularly among minorities, to get vaccinated."

Ruffolo says many of his employees are Black and African American, who, as a community, have been disproportionately impacted by the perils of COVID-19.

"Many of our healthcare workers are minority, and our nursing home residents, there are a number who are minority. So the vaccine, in terms of being administered on our campus, is extremely important because such a poverty-stricken area, many workers don't have availability of transportation to get to other facilities to get vaccinated," said Ruffolo.

According to a spokesman for the New York State Department of Health, the issue boils down to timing.

When the first orders were placed for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, federal parameters required that the receiving facilities have an appropriate storage freezer on site, which NFMMC did not, the spokesperson told 7 Eyewitness News.

NFMMC has since acquired the storage freezer, which means future shipments will now be going to directly to the hospital.

Complicating matters further, there is more vaccine that was supposed to arrive at NFMMC this week that is nowhere to be found. Ruffolo does not know if it got misdirected to a different healthcare system.

"You can imagine our employees, our healthcare workers, our physicians, all of our providers, they are very anxious to receive the vaccine and we really need to take advantage of that and get it as soon as possible so that we can administer it quickly," said Ruffolo.

The State Health Department spokesman says they are working with NFMMC to get the doses that were sent to Catholic Health transferred to Niagara Falls.