County and state try new strategies to reach the unvaccinated

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“Vaccination takes away the uncertainty,” says Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen. “It helps all of us — moves us back to a place where we can look at resumption of normal life.”

ALBANY COUNTY — At the same time that Albany County has reached the milestone of having half of its residents receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, it has hit a wall in filling its mass clinic, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said on Friday.

“Now we have the supply and we don’t have the demand,” he said at his Monday morning briefing. “Most people who wanted to get the vaccine have received the vaccine. Now we need to continue to educate and to get people out there.”

At Thursday’s clinic, held at the Times Union Center in Albany, only 319 residents came to use the 1,200 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine that workers were ready to dispense. Fifty-six of those were walk-ins.

Consequently, the county is shifting its focus to have more community-based pop-up clinics. It has also launched an Instagram challenge, #IGot Mine,” to encourage young residents to get vaccinated.

At the same time, Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber in his daily email to residents on all things COVID, reported on Friday that the town’s emergency medical services had held its first evening clinic, which allowed seasonal workers at local farms and orchards, and restaurant and retail workers who found it difficult to schedule a day-time appointment to get vaccinated.

Guilderland EMS has vaccinated nearly 1,000 residents, with most requiring second doses over the next few weeks, Barber reported. “Because the community has achieved a very high vaccination rate, it is doubtful that EMS will have another first-dose clinic,” he said.

A few first doses of the Pfizer vaccine are available for anyone over the age of 16 — recipients need not be Guilderland residents — to be given at the EMS station by April 27. Those who want a vaccination should email  or calling 518-579-3737.

Also on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo was in New York City, promoting five new pop-up vaccination sites that will take walk-in appointments for New York City bodega, grocery store, and supermarket workers.

“We’ll bring the vaccine to you through not-for-profit community-based health providers who you feel comfortable dealing with because you have a relationship with them. Government won’t even show up and we’ll make it available to you where you work.”


Commissioner speaks to uncertainty

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said there has been a shift “throughout New York State” as mass vaccination clinics are not reaching capacity.

The county is moving to “smaller PODs where people live, work, and play ….,” she said. “We remain committed to vaccinating those that are homebound and those that are homeless.”

While early adopters, comfortable with medical science stepped forward early to get their vaccine, “now we have to work on those that have been waiting or are uncertain,” Whalen said at Friday’s briefing.

She launched into a thoughtful sermon on uncertainty.

“Uncertainty has become a large part of all of our lives under COVID-19,” she said. The uncertainty is whether you’re going to be able to resume normal life. The uncertainty is whether it is safe to see your family members.

“The uncertainty is whether or not you may become ill yourself and how this could affect your family or your loved ones. The uncertainty has been: Is this something you could be transmitting unknowingly? And this uncertainty has taken a toll on all of us.

“It has obviously changed the rules for life as we know it.”

Whalen spoke of the tremendous upheaval in many areas, from the economy to mental health.

“Vaccination takes away the uncertainty,” she said. “It helps all of us — moves us back to a place where we can look at resumption of normal life.”

Whalen said she had spoken this week to someone who said, “The first dose of the COVID shot gives you COVID.” Whalen explained that this is not true. “It helps produce antibodies so you will not get the disease,” she said.

She urged people who are uncertain about getting the vaccine to get their information from a trusted source, someone versed in science, like a doctor or pharmacist.

“Think about the path forward out of uncertainty,” Whalen said. “In particular, we are targeting the younger demographic.”

She noted again that all three of her children have been immunized. “I believe in the science and I believe it will protect them,” Whalen said.

“We need to get to that 70-percent mark and we’re at 50-percent now …,” “You’re not only doing something for yourself,” she concluded of vaccination. “You’re doing something for the community. You’re doing something to help us all forward out of uncertainty.”


Reaching youth

Explaining the county’s Instagram challenge, Mccoy said, “If you got your first shot, we’re asking you to post a video or photo on Instagram, explaining why you got it, encouraging others to do the same.”

The promotion was launched with a video in which a series of young people are shown at the Times Union Center getting their shots and explaining why.

“I got my shot today so I can worry less and visit family more,” said a masked girl.

“I got my shot because I am a baseball coach and I like to protect my team,” says a young man.

McCoy reflected on the high school athletes and their parents and coaches who had protested in January after the health department determined the infection rate was too high to allow contact sports.

“Get those kids vaccinated,” he urged the sports parents and athletes.

He lauded Bethlehem High School, which hosted a clinic that vaccinated 400 students. He said that 100 other students among the 700 eligible had been vaccinated, bringing the school to over 70 percent.

“Help us educate these kids,” said McCoy, addressing school board members.

McCoy noted a young child is currently hospitalized with the disease.

For anyone having trouble filling out forms with their Social Security number and health-insurance information, McCoy said, “Call my office.” He also said they could call United Way at 2-1-1 for free assistance.

The shots are free but residents with health insurance are asked to fill out forms so the insurance company can reimburse.


Newest numbers

McCoy said there were 41 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s tally to 23,618.

Of the new cases, 30 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, 10 did not have a clear source of infection at this time, and one was a health-care worker or resident of a congregate living setting.

The five-day average for new daily positives decreased from 58.6 to 52.8. There are now 483 active cases in the county, down from 498 on Thursday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine decreased to 1,159 from 1,215. So far, 75,840 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 23,135 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 56 recoveries since Thursday.

There were three new hospitalizations overnight and there are still 20 county residents hospitalized from the virus. There are currently five patients in intensive-care units, down from six yesterday. 

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 374.

Albany County’s infection rate, as of Thursday, as a seven-day rolling average, was 2.7 percent, according to the state’s dashboard.

Statewide, also as of Thursday, as a seven-day rolling average, the infection rate was 2.4 percent.

As of Friday night, according to the state’s vaccine tracker, 50.8 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. McCoy reported on Friday morning that 36.3 percent had been fully vaccinated.

Statewide, 43.4 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose while 30.2 percent have completed a vaccine series.

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