State gears up to vaccinate kids against COVID

— Still frame from Oct. 27, 2021 press conference

Emily Lutterloh, the state’s director of epidemiology who will head New York’s effort to vaccinate children once it’s authorized, said of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech, “These are really good vaccines. They’re safe. They’ve been tested, they’re effective and they’re free and easily available.”

ALBANY COUNTY — While the centerpiece of Governor Kathy Hochul’s COVID press briefing today was on the anticipated approval of a vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, she also said New York was working with other states for a shared vaccination pass and that the state has launched a campaign to fight the lies that are keeping some New Yorkers from getting vaccinated.

Hochul introduced Emily Lutterloh, the state’s director of epidemiology who will head New York’s effort to vaccinate children once it’s authorized.

Over 1.5 million children are 5 to 11 years old in New York State and will therefore be eligible for the free shots. “These are really good vaccines. They’re safe. They’ve been tested, they’re effective and they’re free and easily available,” said Lutterloh of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Lutterloh herself is the mother of three children, two in the targeted age group. “Like a lot of parents, I've dealt with the kids getting sick and having to keep them home from school and get them tested. And I even had one in quarantine. We all want to get back to normal,” she said, stressing that vaccination is the way to do that.

Lutterloh said pediatricians need to talk to parents and encourage those who are eligible. While she urged parents to talk to their pediatricians and make appointments, she urged pediatricians to enroll in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program and to start scheduling patients as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, a panel of experts that advises the Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, which would include about 28 million children in the United States. The FDA is expected to reach a decision shortly, which then has to be reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hochul displayed a timeline that anticipates the CDC will provide guidance by Nov. 4.

A third of parents with children in this age group say they will vaccinate their children right away, according to a recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a not-for-profit focusing on health-care issues.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said on Monday that the county will hold in-school vaccination clinics and her department is also encouraging pediatricians to administer the shots because parents often feel more comfortable in their doctors’ offices.

She urged parents to get their children vaccinated noting that, once a child is fully vaccinated, he or she would not need to be quarantined after coming into contact with an ill child.

“Once they get innoculated ... they’ll be safe,” said Hochul at Wednesday’s press briefing.

The state, she said, is prepared to distribute the vaccine; 370 providers have pre-ordered a total of over 380,000 doses. The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, has pre-ordered 17,300 doses. In addition to that, Hochul noted, chain pharmacies are getting tens of thousands of doses from the federal government.t

“This is just the first wave,” said Hochul, who anticipates an “initial rush.”

The state is also working with school districts to hold vaccination clinics; so far, 350 have committed to holding events, Hochul said, and 390 districts have agreed to send out notices. The state has about 730 school districts.

Asked if the shots would be mandated for children, Hochul said, “That is a possibility. It’s on the table.”

If the infection and hospitalization rates go up and there is not adequate compliance, Hochul said, “I’ll have no choice.”


Booster shots

Hochul displayed a picture of herself getting a booster vaccine and said the process was painless.

Because her first shot was of Johnson & Johnson, she was eligible after just two months for a second, booster shot as is anyone who got the one-shot Johnson & Johnson.

Over the weekend, the CDC released authorization for booster shots for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer boosters had been authorized earlier.

Those who initially were vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna are eligible for the booster shots after six months if they are 65 or older or if they are 18 or older and live in a long-term care setting, have underlying medical conditions, or work in a high-risk setting.

“You literally feel safer once you have that booster shot,” said Hochul.

So far, 787,000 New Yorkers have had a booster shot, Hochul reported, noting that 5.5 million New Yorkers are eligible.

“So we want to make sure those numbers get up,” she said, displaying a chart that showed, in the Capital Region, 71,724 residents had gotten booster shots.


Fighting lies

Hochul said one of the identified reasons people aren’t getting vaccinated “is that they are believing the lies on social media.”

She went on, “It’s dangerous, it’s misleading, and it puts people at risk and it’s hindering our entire battle against COVID because people are reading this. Facebook’s most viewed article in early 2020 raised doubt about the COVID vaccine ….

“Someone hijacked and put out misinformation, making it look like it was legitimate from us on how you would need a vaccination before you can get a driver’s license.”

So on Wednesday the state launched a #GetTheVaxFacts campaign that includes a website as well as downloadable toolkits to address the most pressing misinformation topics around the COVID-19 vaccine.

The campaign urges that the public follow four steps to stop the spread of misinformation:

— Verify before sharing; don’t share something on social media, until you’ve checked if the original source of the information is trustworthy;

— Be cautious when it comes to sensational headlines and images;

— Get the full story; misinformation often “cherry-picks” or elevates a small piece of a story in order to mislead or alarm you; and

— Amplify trustworthy sources in your community; help to spread good information within your community by sharing accurate information from trustworthy sources.

 Earlier this year, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a Health Misinformation Advisory that he prefaced with this message: “Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts. Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort.

“So please share this with others that you know,” said Hochul on Wednesday of the  #GetTheVaxFacts campaign. “We’re targeting misinformation about pregnancy and fertility and side effects and safety and all sorts of other government conspiracy theories.”


More mandates

The state’s next vaccine mandates go into effect on Nov. 1.

“We had those in place to make sure that all of our health-care workers are fully vaccinated and we have 86.4 percent already met the mandate in our psychiatric centers — that’s great,” said Hochul on Wednesday.

“Our Office for People with Developmental Disabilities in our hospitals, they’re already 100 percent vaccinated,” she went on. “That’s incredible.

“So further proof that these vaccine mandates have worked. I’m really proud of the people who stepped up and all the health-care institutions and entities across the state.

“And as a result, when people enter one of our health-care facilities, they will have the confidence to know that the person taking care of them will not make them sicker than they were when they walked in by contracting COVID. So that's the good news.”

The daily COVID update from the governor’s office lists the mandate categories and how many workers have been furloughed or fired for not getting vaccinated.

On Wednesday, the report said that, in hospitals statewide, 3,195 workers, which is 0.62 percent, have been fired for not getting vaccinated while another 1,571, or 0.30 percent, have resigned or retired due to being unvaccinated. Another 2,683, or 0.56 percent, are on unpaid leave.

Similarly, at nursing homes across the state, 1,667 workers, or 1.12 percent, have been fired for not getting vaccinated while another 83, or 0.06 percent, have resigned or retired. Another 951 nursing-home workers, or 0.64 percent, are on unpaid leave because they are unwilling to get vaccinated.


Pass blueprint

New York is sharing a blueprint for its Excelsior Pass with other states, Hochul said, to make inter-state travel easier. The pass verifies that its holder is vaccinated.

New York launched its pass in March 2021 and, so far, over six million Excelsior Passes have been retrieved by New Yorkers, the governor’s office reports.

“So we want more people to come to New York. We want them to go to our restaurants. We want them to go to our plays ....,” said Hochul. “But as people come from other parts of the country and around the world, we want to make sure that their states have the same blueprint that we developed so they can download this, start taking the steps necessary. So their own residents can travel freely.”

This will also allow New Yorkers to travel more easily to other states, said Hochul. “So we’re trying to create this synergy.”

The blueprint, now publicly available, shares New York State’s process to build, implement, and advance the Excelsior Pass platform. The document includes a step-by-step guide tailored for the unique needs of state governments, covering privacy and security strategy, data management, and public information and engagement.

The state will be hosting a series of virtual events and webinars to provide those interested with additional tools and resources. New York is actively working with other states to provide technical support, including architecture information and instructional logic, the governor’s office said in a release.

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