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Hotline # 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829)
In what Governor Cuomo has called “the most ambitious governmental operation that has been undertaken, period,” New York State started vaccinating its residents against Covid-19 on December 14, 2020.
The first Covid-19 vaccine to be authorized by the FDA in late 2020 was Pfizer/BioNTech’s, followed shortly after by Moderna’s. Both vaccines are highly effective (94-95%) at preventing symptomatic coronavirus infection and reducing the risk of severe Covid-19 disease. Both vaccines require two doses: a primer dose and then a booster shot administered 3-4 weeks later. Immunity is reached 1-2 weeks after the second dose.
The vaccines were distributed to 292 sites statewide. The primary recipients during Phase I of the vaccination program were healthcare workers at high risk of Covid-19 exposure (emergency room workers, ICU staff and Pulmonary Department staff), followed by other healthcare workers, nursing home and congregate care residents and workers. Statewide, this comes to about 1.8 million people. In Sleepy Hollow, Phelps Hospital, part of the Northwell Health Network, was the first to administer the vaccine. ICU nurse Kathy Kenna made history as one of the first people to get the Covid-19 vaccine. According to Jeffrey Meade, Assistant Vice President of Operations at Phelps Hospital, the Northwell Network hopes to vaccinate 50,000 staff by the end of January.
It is easy to understand why frontline healthcare workers are among the first to receive the vaccine. Not only are they exposed most often to the virus, but they also routinely risk their lives to save ours. We need them to be healthy, and they deserve to be first in line.
Why are nursing homes included in the first phase of the rollout? Due to the communal nature of the environment and the residents’ age and underlying conditions, those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are at an increased risk of serious illness resulting from Covid-19. In New York State, as of late December 2020, 21% of the pandemic fatalities were linked to long-term facilities. While the national average of coronavirus case fatality rate is 2%, it is 13% in these facilities. The vulnerable need to be protected.
Pat Banta, Regional Director of Health Services at Chelsea Senior Living, said the residents and staff at The Chelsea at Greenburgh anxiously awaited the vaccine’s arrival. “We are trying to do everything we can to get our staff and residents vaccinated,” she commented.
Phase 2 of the vaccination program, set to begin late this month, will prioritize essential workers and the “priority” general public (those with underlying health conditions who are most vulnerable to the disease). While Phase 1 was led by the State, Phase 2 will be led by plans created by designated “regional hubs”, in accordance with state guidelines. In Westchester, Westchester Medical Center is in charge of creating our regional implementation plan. They submitted their plan to the state in early January, and hope to begin Phase 2 as soon as possible.
We should not be afraid of obtaining the vaccine. We need to be afraid of Covid.”
There is a lot we still don’t know, like how long immunity will last, or if the vaccine will prevent asymptomatic infection, or if those who are vaccinated and later become infected without symptoms can still spread the virus to others. As of now, there is not enough data to state whether it is safe for pregnant or lactating women to receive the vaccine. We don’t know when there will be a vaccine for children. We don’t yet know when the general public—meaning healthy adults without underlying conditions—will get vaccinated.
But here is what we do know: the vaccine is safe and highly effective. We will need at least 75% of the population to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity and stop transition. This will take, we hope, approximately 6-9 months. Governor Cuomo has stated that insurers must cover the cost of vaccination, assuring that all New Yorkers can receive the vaccine free of charge.
During a Covid-19 briefing, Westchester County Executive George Latimer reminded us that the vaccine is not a cure for the disease. We must be vigilant and continue doing the things we’ve been told to do for months: wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice social distancing.
Arlene Ramirez, a Northwell Health frontline employee, was one of the first to receive the Moderna vaccine on December 21, 2020. The virus made her very ill in the spring, and also took her father’s life. After receiving the vaccine, she said she felt emotional, but good. “This vaccine is hope. It’s hope that we will cease this pandemic. It’s hope that we will live a better life. We should not be afraid of obtaining the vaccine. We need to be afraid of Covid.”
To find out if you are eligible for the vaccine, and where you can get it, check out: https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/ This is the most up-to-date resource for our area.