Let’s give some credit where credit is due. It wasn’t so very long ago that readers were firing off emails complaining about the COVID-19 vaccine registration process. They described a confusing, frustrating system where appointments were hard to come by, and booking one required spending hours online or repeatedly dialing the state hotline. Months later, these concerns have vanished.
It’s easy to get the vaccine – so easy, that some counties are enticing people to clinic with offers of free beer. Supply is plentiful, which makes a big difference. But we’ve also benefited from the hard work of our county health departments, who have shown an impressive combination of smarts, conscientiousness and creative thinking in their efforts to vaccinate residents. In the early days of the vaccine rollout, officials assured me they understood the challenges of getting the vaccine to homebound residents and other marginalized groups, and they sounded sincere. Still, it’s one thing to talk about vaccinating the vulnerable, and another thing to do it.
Were county health departments up to the task? The answer appears to be a resounding yes. Right now, Schenectady County ranks first in New York state for the percentage of adults 18 and older who have received at least one vaccination dose, at 74.6%. In Saratoga County, 71.3% of 18-plus adults have received one vaccine dose. In Albany County, 71.6%.
These are impressive numbers, but I didn’t need to see them to know that local vaccination campaigns have been a success. My conversations with people in the community have revealed as much, as have reports on initiatives aimed at reaching under-vaccinated areas. This past weekend, The Daily Gazette’s John Cropley reported on a mobile clinic that is bringing the vaccine to Schenectady’s lower-income neighborhoods; on Thursday, staff from the county health department rode a CDTA trolley to pop-up sites in Hamilton Hill and Vale. On Monday morning, I stopped by St. Joseph’s Place, a drop-in center in Hamilton Hill that serves a mostly low-income clientele.
“Are people getting vaccinated?” I asked the nuns who run the center. The response was much different from earlier in the year, when there seemed to be little awareness of where or how to get the vaccine among the St. Joseph’s Place regulars. Many of them are now vaccinated, thanks to clinics that deliver the vaccine to the places they frequent and the neighborhoods in which they reside. “There have been so many clinics in the neighborhood,” one of the nuns said. “So many opportunities for people to get it.”
That’s great news – something to be proud of. It also suggests that the key to a successful vaccination effort is local control. Initially, the Cuomo administration put hospitals in charge of administering the COVID-19 vaccine, even though county health departments had been planning for a mass vaccination event for years. Rollout was sluggish, and county leaders expressed frustration, saying the state was making it more difficult for them to get the vaccine to residents. Things began to change for the better once supply increased, and counties were able to launch their own vaccine initiatives, tailored to the needs of the community.
If there’s ever another pandemic that requires a large-scale vaccine distribution effort – and I hope there isn’t – let’s remember to trust our county health departments to get the job done. In the meantime, we should celebrate what’s already been accomplished.