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January 4, 2021 - 6:12pm

Public health director: Group 1A for COVID-19 vaccination is growing by leaps and bounds

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Human Services Committee, genesee county legislature.

The manner in which the first group set to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has grown in recent days makes one wonder whether the butcher, baker and candlestick maker will be the next ones to be added to the list.

Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties, today said the roster of the 1A prioritization group is “very fluid and keeps expanding, and it seems like every day.”

Speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee meeting via Zoom videoconferencing, Pettit said the 1A group now includes health-related professionals well beyond those initially identified as the most essential of the “essential” workers.

“You may recall seeing a week or two ago (that 1A) was really targeted at EMS (Emergency Medical Services) workers, frontline healthcare workers and coroners, medical examiners, funeral home directors,” he said. “Since that time, the list has grown fairly substantially, which now includes private medical practices, hospital affiliated medical practices, public health workers, dentists, other dialysis workers, diagnostic treatment centers, and also includes occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, behavioral health workers and student health workers.”

Pettit noted that other frontline health workers, home healthcare aides and related providers are in the process of being added into the first group.

“As you can see it has grown fairly large over the last week or two (and) that could change tomorrow. So, we’re currently working again with the hospital and Oak Orchard Health, which is the former Pembroke Family Medicine, … to start to vaccinate the different groups that I just mentioned under the 1A prioritization,” he said.

Pettit said the vaccine is “starting to roll out” at United Memorial Medical Center.

“They’re holding pods actually today and a couple other days this week,” he said. “We’ll be getting the vaccine hopefully tomorrow – smaller amounts – and we will be starting to work on the 1A priority group. Obviously, day by day as more vaccine comes in to the community and more providers start to come online, it will speed things up.”

Pettit reiterated what he said during a media briefing last week (as reported by The Batavian) that it will take a couple weeks to meet the demand – especially as the 1A list continues to grow.

“The focus is on the 1As and keep in mind, that once we get the 1As done, we will have to start over with their second shot as the vaccination series is 28 days apart with the Moderna vaccine,” he said. “So, essentially we’re going to be giving folks their second round while we’re trying to start with the first round of the 1B essential group. It’s going to get a little muddled there about a month from now.”

He also emphasized that nursing homes throughout the state are part of program coordinated by the NYS Department of Health in conjunction with pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.

“They’ve gone in and have been vaccinating nursing home residents and staff. That is not anything that we have had any oversight … that is being done strictly through the state DOH,” he said.

In action related to the local health department’s efforts to COVID test, contact trace and vaccinate, the Human Services Committee approved three resolutions during today’s meeting:

  • A memorandum of understanding with the state DOH to ensure the proper distribution and administration of the vaccine by the Genesee County Health Department. The MOU is subject to ratification and approval by the full County Legislature.

“The governor is cracking down on this (adherence to making sure the vaccine is given per the state-mandate prioritization),” Pettit said. “At the moment, it (vaccine) is a scarce commodity; there’s not a lot of it out there yet and there’s a high demand for it.”

Pettit, again, talked about the stiff penalties that could be imposed, including the loss of the provider’s medical license and fines of up to $1 million for failure to comply.

“That is why that MOU … is being put in place,” he said. “It’s basically us attesting as a receiver of the vaccine that we – the county – will follow the state guidelines.”

  • The creation of two temporary full-time COVID-19 response specialist positions to assist the health department with testing, contact tracing and vaccination.

Each job, which will be in force for six months beginning Jan. 18, carries a salary and fringe benefits totaling $40,388, with those expenses to be paid with a combination of state aid reimbursement and Medicaid to State funds.

  • Acceptance of a $35,000 grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials to the health department for contact tracing, overtime and testing expenses.

Pettit said the money isn’t enough “to carry us through to the finish line” but expects more funding to be available as a result of the passage of the federal stimulus bill.

“We have a monumental task ahead of us "over the next four to six months,” he said.

In other news, the committee reported that the Orleans County Legislature reappointed Pettit as its public health director per the two counties’ municipal agreement.

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