As J&J vaccine flows to NYS, county gears up for more shots

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“This is a single-dose regimen, which will be attractive to a lot of people,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

ALBANY COUNTY — The state’s Clinical Advisory Task Force unanimously recommended use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine following the federal Food and Drug Administration’s greenlight for emergency use authorization, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.

Cuomo had set up the task force during the Trump administration to quell doubts he thought might arise about federal approval.

New York State expects to receive about 164,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, according to a release from Cuomo’s office. Added to the doses already expected from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, New York is slated to receive about 878,000 doses — the highest in the 12 weeks it has been receiving vaccine doses.

Cuomo — embroiled with fallout following accusations of sexual harassment from two women, former staffers —  has stopped holding his regular COVID-19 press briefings. He put out a statement, though, on the one-year anniversary of the first identified COVID-19 case in the state.

“One year ago today, the unimaginable tragedy of COVID-19 began for New Yorkers. We’ve faced great pain and loss over the last 365 days, but there’s reason to be hopeful for the future, and the state’s Clinical Advisory Task Force’s recommendation of the next vaccine for COVID is part of that ongoing convalescence,” Cuomo said. “Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine with less restrictive storage requirements will make it easier for the state to reach more New Yorkers, faster.”

Albany County — with its first two cases on March 12, 2020 — is expecting increased doses of vaccine.

“We have a ton of vaccine coming into the county this week ….,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy at his Monday morning press briefing. “It’s a lot more than we anticipated.”

The county clinic can now vaccinate people 65 and older in addition to the essential workers and the people with comorbidities that it had been previously vaccinating.

The two vaccines previously available required two shots several weeks apart: Pfizer-BioNtech after 21 days and Moderna after 28 days.

“This is a single-dose regimen, which will be attractive to a lot of people,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“It, like the others, has undergone rigorous clinical trials. It is safe and effective,” said Whalen. “In terms of the efficacy, we know Moderna and Pfizer are in the 90 percentiles for the level they can protect you against severe disease and death. So those are very reassuring numbers.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine in trials in the United States has shown about a 72 percent efficacy. This is still very strong efficacy,” she said, noting that, for a flu vaccine, 70 percent “would be a good number.”

Whalen said that a level of about 70 percent is needed for herd immunity.

At the same time more vaccine doses are being made available, more people are becoming eligible in New York State.

Food-pantry workers have been added to the list of essential workers. 

“Ensuring the safety of those who work in food pantries and directly serve people in need on the front lines is not only vital to our mission of addressing hunger at The Food Pantries, but it is essential to lessening the impact of this virus on low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Natasha Pernicka in a statement.

Pernicka is the executive director of The Food Pantries for the Capital District, a coalition of more than 65 food pantries that serve 65,000 people annually.

Since March 2020, groceries for more than 300 million meals have been distributed to New Yorkers seeking food assistance. The state has nearly 3,000 community emergency programs, and there are approximately 10,000 food pantry workers and volunteers throughout New York, according to Pernicka’s organization.

Whalen also said her department continues to “work with community partners to ensure an equitable vaccination distribution” and that they are looking at percentages of residents vaccinated from various ZIP codes to show “where we’re doing well and where we need to improve.”

The state and federal governments are running a mass vaccination site at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany, which begins vaccinations on March 3. The site is to vaccinate 1,000 people each day. The first week is for residents living in certain specified ZIP codes.

McCoy said he had worked with his counterparts in Schenectady and Rensselaer counties to arrange, through United Way, for bus transportation from those counties to the armory.

Also on Monday, McCoy also screened an ad — the second of three television ads from the county to encourage vaccination. It features New York Giants running back Dion Lewis, an Albany native. 

“My mom has gotten a vaccine already,” Lewis says in the ad. “Nothing but good came out of it.”

In May, Lewis had urged kids to stay in shape during the pandemic but to play it safe. “These are very serious times and you can’t do things like you want to do,” he said then.


Newest numbers

As of Monday morning, Albany County has had 20,562 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 57 new cases since Sunday, McCoy said.

Of the new cases, 37 did not have clear sources of infection identified, 17 had close contact with positive cases, and three were health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

The five-day average for new daily positives has decreased to 80.4 from 86. There are now 611 active cases in the county, down from 631 yesterday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine increased to 1,511 from 1,498. So far, 64,205 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 19,951 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 72 recoveries since Sunday.

There were four new hospitalizations overnight, and there are now 36 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus – a net decrease of three. There are currently three patients in intensive-care units, unchanged from yesterday. 

The county’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 352.

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