Some elderly people wait outside PODs for leftover doses

ALBANY COUNTY — Since 7 million New Yorkers qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine while the state receives just several-hundred-thousand doses weekly, some people have been waiting outside of points of dispensing, known as PODs, hoping to get their first of two shots out of the way quickly.

Once the vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech is mixed, it must be discarded after six hours if not used.

State guidance recently changed so that PODs must keep stand-by lists of people who can be quickly called in to use excess vaccine doses.

On Tuesday afternoon, The Enterprise spoke with two women — who said they were ages 78 and 80, and both diabetic — as they waited outside an Albany Medical Center satellite office in Menands, sitting in a car together to avoid the cold. Neither was willing to identify herself except by first name.

The older woman had gotten a leftover dose the day prior, along with two other people, and was accompanying her friend who was still holding out hope for a shot despite being told by a security guard just minutes before her conversation with The Enterprise that the facility was no longer administering leftover doses. 

“I’m still going to go up there at 5 o’clock and try my luck,” said the younger woman.

Both women are eligible to receive the vaccination as both are older than the threshold age of 65, as well as being diabetic, but were dismayed to have to wait weeks for a vaccination.

A larger group had been seen outside the same facility by Blanca Gonzalez-Parker of Guilderland, a registered nurse and volunteer vaccinator who passed the group on her way to get her own vaccine shot last weekend.

“I arrived at 8:40 for my 9 A.M. appointment and there were 4-to-5 people waiting at the picnic table and in lawn chairs wearing coats and blankets to keep warm,” Gonzalez-Parker told The Enterprise in an email. “ … When my husband and I first pulled up for my appointment, I thought perhaps they were in line for their appointments and proceeded to try and stand behind them. That’s when an elderly woman told me I was lucky and my heart instantly broke for her.”

Gonzalez-Parker told The Enterprise that a doctor there informed her that “there had been people waiting every day since the POD opened earlier this month. Some days there were vaccines left and some days there weren’t.”

“A physician volunteer at the POD gave no indication that he was opposed to giving out the vaccine to the folks waiting outside,” Gonzalez-Parker said. “If anything, he seemed to feel bad that there were days where they had waited all day in the cold only to be told there were no extras. 

“My stance on it as a public health professional is that it’s a better alternative to wasting the vaccine,” she went on, “and that establishing herd immunity is most important. The doses given to the people waiting outside would be otherwise wasted, due to the temperature and time requirements of the vaccine.”

Albany Medical Center Director of Communications Sue Ford Rajchel confirmed that a “small group of community members” would wait outside the Menands office in the hopes of receiving leftover doses of the vaccine, and explained that state guidance led to the policy change.

“While we do not encourage [waiting outside], we had been administering what vaccine was left to those who were first in line so as not to be wasteful,” Rajchel told The Enterprise in an email. “Late Tuesday, New York State provided guidance requiring that providers keep a daily standby list of eligible individuals who would be called if there are more doses than people to be vaccinated.”

State’s stance

When the Pfizer vaccine was first distributed, it was discovered that some vials could yield six or seven doses, instead of the five advertised; when the Moderna vaccine was distributed, it was discovered that some vials yielded 11 doses instead of 10. This, along with inevitable snags like no-show appointments, and combined with the delicate nature of the vaccine, resulted in New York State issuing official guidance on the administration of leftover doses, as well as how to avoid excess in the first place.

According to a state Department of Health document dated Jan. 15, 2021, health workers are allowed to administer leftover vaccines (provided that all fluid was drawn from the same vial) to patients who are eligible for the vaccine, which currently includes anyone 65 or older, nursing-home residents and workers, health-care workers, and certain essential workers.

“All providers must keep a daily list of ‘stand by’ eligible individuals to be notified of open appointments for vaccine administration on short notice,” the document reads. “As soon as providers are aware that there are more doses than people to be vaccinated, ‘standby’ eligible individuals should be called, or other steps must be taken to bring additional eligible recipients to the facility or clinic before the acceptable use period expires.”

An executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo threatens a fine of up to $1 million per dose against those who distribute the vaccine among the ineligible, along with the revocation of state-issued medical licensure. 

However, if no one from the standby list is available to receive the vaccine before it expires, health providers can administer it to other public-facing employees.

“As an example,” the document reads, “commercial pharmacists in this situation who had already vaccinated eligible populations, everyone public facing in the pharmacy department and the ‘stand by’ list they can then move on to vaccinate store clerks, cashiers, stock workers and delivery staff, rather than letting doses expire. This exception is ONLY for the purpose of ensuring vaccine is not wasted.”

But while it’s possible to receive a vaccination shot in this manner, it’s not, as Rajchel told The Enterprise, encouraged.

“We ask our community to remain patient,” Rajchel said. “But, as supply increases, we will ensure that every Capital Region resident who would like a vaccine may receive one.”


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