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COVID vaccine roll out "didn't have to be this way" in New York State

County health director says its plans were shelved
COVID-19 vaccine makers sign pledge not to rush vaccine
Posted at 6:24 AM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 08:37:03-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County has canceled its vaccination appointments for today, tomorrow and Wednesday because of a dramatic reduction in vaccine allocation.

But even when vaccine is in stock-- it's limited --and there are many problems making an appointment to get that shot.

Christine Schuyler, Director of Health and Human Services in Chautauqua County, says it doesn't have to be problematic. County health departments have plans for mass vaccination, but she says, the state isn't putting those plans into action.

Instead, Schuyler says the state is taking the authority for vaccine distribution away from your local health department, which is slowing things down.

"This has been a very challenging time for local health departments. Our staff is maxed out. We're doing everything we can with isolation and quarantine and doing the communicable disease work we're mandated to do. Then we were poised to do vaccination -- which is much more in our comfort zone...and then those plans were shelved. Here we are questioning why the vaccine is being rolled out so slowly. It didn't have to be this way," Schuyler said.

The I-Team asked if Schuyler was referring to the Governor in referencing how plans for distribution were shelved.

She said, "Yes. The State. Whomever that may be."

Local health departments, across the state, have felt that we were slapped and that really our plans were shelved. It really didn't make any sense to us. We felt disrespected by the State," Schuyler said.

Schuyler noted the State Department of Health regional office has been helpful throughout this pandemic.

"I'm not saying State Health Department because we're very fortunate, in Western New York, to have a regional State Health Department office under Dr. Greg Young. They are phenomenal to work with. They are hugely supportive, they've done an excellent job, but they have not really had any part to play in the state's roll out of the vaccine in the response to COVID 19," Schuyler said.

But had the state allowed counties to handle vaccine distribution, would things have gone differently? Would there be a more effective roll out?

"I feel that this -- the entire pandemic-- could have been handled better with better communication and better collaboration with county health departments. We had plans in place. We've drilled for these exercises. We know what to do. We know the sites to be used and how to get vaccines in arms and that's what we should have been relied upon to do. That's what our community expects from us. They expect us to be the leaders out there...and that's why our phones are ringing off the hook and our emails are blowing up and everyone is so frustrated...they are looking to us for answers and we don't have them," Schuyler said.

So why would local health departments seemingly be left out of the equation?

"I don't know why that is," Schuyler said. "But for some reason in New York, that seems to be what the case has been. I do feel that is changing now with the regional vaccination network hubs. [They] have realized the importance of local health departments in their regions and have escalated our concerns and given us a bigger voice with the Governor's office as far as what our capabilities are and what we can and should be doing for our communities. So I'm hoping to see a larger amount of vaccine coming to local health departments. That will enable us to do larger vaccination pods for our communities."

Schuyler feels there needs to be more coordination at the county level.

"That's we know how to do. We know our communities. We know our partners. We know how to do the job that needs to be done. That coordination, I think, is best done at the county level and that way we'd actually be able to answer our constituents questions; we could take care of our residents and push the vaccine out like it needs to be pushed out," Schuyler said.

We've reached out to Governor Cuomo's office for a statement or a response. A spokesperson is yet to respond to our request for more information.