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County and Cayuga Health System Officials Hold Virtual Update, Detail Community Vaccine Distribution

Tompkins County officials were joined by Cayuga Health System CEO Dr. Martin Stallone for a live COVID-19 update. The update focused on the current prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, the Cayuga Medical Center’s hospital capacity, and vaccine distribution. Officials detailed vaccine distribution in Tompkins County to date, and answered questions submitted by members of the public. The update is archived at this link, and viewable any time.

The Tompkins County Health Department is keeping an updated website with vaccine information and answers to frequently asked questions. At the time of this event, 5,000 vaccines had been allocated (including some passed along to other hospitals) and an estimated 95% of doses delivered to Cayuga Health System will be distributed by the end of the week.

Dr. Stallone and Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa gave information on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Both shared that scientific publications are available for public review, and while there are some reported side effects (such as fever, headache, fatigue) based on the studies it is widely regarded as a safe and effective vaccine. Individual concerns should be addressed with your primary care physician.    

Regarding the timeline for vaccine distribution in Tompkins County, Dr. Stallone stated “We are currently in phase 1a, which is made up of forward-facing healthcare workers. Vaccinations of this group are actively ongoing, and we are conducting community clinics. In partnership with the Health Department, we have set up a large-scale clinic that is designed to deliver 1,000 vaccines per day. Our ability to distribute more vaccines will depend on allocations from New York State. The State issues the rules regarding what phase we are in, and who is in each phase.”

Kruppa clarified that the phases are 1a, 1b, 1c, 2, and 3. Phase 1b will include essential workers and those over 75 years of age. It is not yet clear what individuals will be in the essential worker group. “The important thing for the community to know is that as soon as we know we will communicate widely who is eligible,” stated Kruppa. “New York State will determine who are essential workers in phase 1b.” It was shared that for phase 1a there has been a proof of employment requirement, and there may be for future phases as well.

The public will be notified of the phases on the Tompkins County Health Department website and through the local online, print, and radio news media. The officials expressed understanding that not everyone has access to the Internet and will continue to communicate with the community through many different methods.

Kruppa stated, “The biggest bottleneck will be people signing up to get their vaccine. We are prepared to outpace the availability of vaccine, and we want to use up every single vaccine that we have. We need everyone in each phase to register when they are able.” He added that while “you won’t miss your spot in line” if you register during a later phase, the Health Department is strongly encouraging everyone to register as soon as they are eligible.

In pre-submitted questions, some of those who are eligible to receive the vaccine in the first phase shared that they feel guilty to be receiving it while their parents and grandparents continue to wait for their phase. In response Kruppa stated, “Don’t feel guilty — go get vaccinated. How you’ll help people is getting vaccinated and limiting an exposure point for someone else. It’s one less place that they can catch COVID from. If you are eligible, please get vaccinated.”

In recognition of public hesitancy in receiving this vaccine, especially for historically marginalized groups, County Administrator Jason Molino explained that there will be an ongoing dialogue on education around the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and building trust will be imperative, with support from community networks and partners. “We recognize that people of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in general and we want to make access to the vaccine as easy as possible for everyone in our community.... As we come up with challenges, we will come up with solutions.... it’s a constant work in progress but we recognize it and want to ensure that all constituents who want the vaccine will have access to it.”  

Kruppa shared the goal of herd immunity (also referred to as community immunity). He reiterated how important it will be that as many people as possible get vaccinated in order to protect others who may not be able to get the vaccine. Kruppa explained that while people are getting vaccinated, “We still do not know if the vaccine prevents transmission of the disease. We know it will keep people from getting sick, but we are encouraging people to continue safety precautions while we administer these vaccines.”

Kruppa referenced the current rise in cases locally, stating, “As we have more positive cases, we are more likely to have more hospitalizations and more tragic outcomes.” Tompkins County Emergency Operations Center Chief and Deputy County Administrator Amie Hendrix stated, “While vaccines are being made available, it does not mean that we are at the finish line. It’s incumbent on all of us to continue wearing masks, keeping distance, checking in on one another, and being patient as we begin to receive vaccine in our community.” Hendrix continued,  “This is why we are asking you to be a part of the information chain, please share this information widely with your neighbors, family, friends, and contacts. Just as the community came together to help inform one another at the beginning of the pandemic, we can do the same with the distribution of the vaccine.”

In closing, Hendrix asked the panel how members of the public can participate. Dr. Stallone urged participation in getting vaccinated, sharing that it is a “personal duty to get vaccinated.”  Kruppa added, “help us protect the people around us” by getting vaccinated. Molino thanked the public for tuning in, encouraging everyone to talk to your friends and family about getting vaccinated and help to share this information widely to all members of our community. Special thanks were given to the Cayuga Health System team for their efforts. 

If you would like to receive direct updates on future town halls or COVID updates, please fill out this form and continue to check the Tompkins County Health Department’s webpage for additional vaccine updates.