Suffolk County is taking a step toward expanding its COVID-19 vaccination effort as County Executive Steve Bellone announced a third mass-vaccination site will open at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Selden.
The site, expected to open Thursday, will focus on distributing vaccines to those with underlying health conditions, municipal employees and Northwell Health employees, according to Mr. Bellone.
“The college is uniquely situated for this effort,” the county executive said during a press conference at the Selden campus Wednesday, noting that all three sites are easily accessible by car or public transportation.
Mass vaccination sites are already up and running at SCCC campuses in Brentwood and Riverside, where essential workers including transit and grocery store employees and teachers are able to receive vaccines.
But beyond physical accessibility to vaccination sites, many residents, particularly seniors, are frustrated with the process of scoring an elusive appointment in the first place.
“This is not a fair situation,” county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during Wednesday’s press conference. “The rollout has come too fast, too quickly and our seniors are being left behind.”
She said she and each of her fellow legislators are hearing from senior constituents about the difficulties they face when trying to make vaccine appointments.
Currently, county appointments are mostly reserved for those who qualify because of their status as essential workers or first responders. Pharmacies have been directed to vaccinate those who are age 65 and older.
Ms. Anker said many seniors are wary of entering their personal information online and called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ease the restrictions that seniors must be vaccinated at pharmacies.
“We need to work together,” she said. “There needs to be more transparency.”
Officials on the East End also say the region is being left behind.
An enraged Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell issued a press release Friday calling for changes to the vaccine rollout, noting that the current process is “fragmented” and “chaotic.”
Mr. Russell argued that the lack of advance notice to the community when vaccines are available at different locations leads to disappointment and frustration for those who don’t know when vaccines are being offered. “The public shouldn’t have to rely on rumors or spend hours day and night scouring the internet in the hope of finding an opportunity,” he said.
Mr. Russell was also critical of the lack of communication with the towns, which he believes are best suited to get the word out to its residents.
Officials said Wednesday that supply remains the greatest challenge.
“Science has given us a very effective and very safe vaccine but vaccinations don’t do any good in the vial,” interim SCCC president Louis Petrizzo said. “They need to be distributed and that’s why setting up these [Points of Distribution] in the communities are so very important.”
According to county officials, Suffolk received approximately 8,000 vaccines this week, up from their usual allotment of 5,000. Approximately 1,600 of those doses are expected to be administered at the new Selden site starting Thursday, if weather permits.
“We expect to see the number of vaccines available go up in the coming weeks,” Mr. Bellone said.
With a winter storm watch in effect from Thursday morning through Friday afternoon, with 4 to 8 inches of snow forecasted for the area, the county executive said the weather may delay the site’s opening. “That will only push us back slightly…We will have this site open and operating as quickly as possible,” he said.
The county executive also reported progress on a declining number of new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday. The positivity rate is currently 4.6%, down from 6.2 percent at the beginning of February. An additional 590 COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday and less than 550 people remain hospitalized, down from more than 675 people at the start of the month.
“Little by little, we’re making progress in the battle,” Mr. Bellone said. “We know that vaccination is ultimately the way out of this pandemic.”
The state is also running a vaccination hotline at 1-833-NYS-4VAX (1-833-697-4829)
Those 65 and older can also check with local pharmacies, many of which are planning to offer vaccines as they become available.