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April 5, 2021 - 9:15pm

Starting Tuesday, all New York residents 16 years of age and older will be eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine – a major breakthrough coming a full year after the initial outbreak of the coronavirus.

But, according to Paul Pettit, public health director of Genesee and Orleans counties, this development doesn’t negate the fact that less than a third of Genesee County citizens has been vaccinated.

“Only 31 percent of the county (has received the vaccine),” Pettit said at this afternoon’s Genesee County Legislature Human Services Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse. “We’re lagging behind the rest of New York State and the Finger Lakes Region, but we’re closing that gap.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that beginning tomorrow, 16- and 17-year-olds can only get the Pfizer vaccine, while those 18 and older will be eligible to take the Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson or Moderna shot.

Pettit said he expects Tuesday to be a “big day” with the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (for those 18 and over) scheduled to be administered from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Genesee Community College. As of 8:30 this evening, 18 appointments were available.

For more information, go to the GO Health website at G O Health COVID-19 Vaccination Schedule and Guidance – Orleans County Government (orleanscountyny.com).

The health director also said that the virus’ positivity rate in the county is “picking up a little bit, which is not unexpected.” He said the rate is at 2 percent in the Finger Lakes Region, up from 1.5 percent a couple of weeks ago.

He also noted that other strains of the coronavirus have been identified in Western New York – leading to more infections – and officials are seeing an increase in those in their 30s and 40s.

“Again, not unexpected as we have concentrated on vaccinating seniors,” Pettit said. “Once we focus on them (younger people), we will see those numbers go down. But there are still a lot of unvaccinated people.”

He continues to urge folks to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

“Keep vigilant … stay the course,” he said, adding that all three vaccines have been proven to be effective in preventing the virus, reducing symptoms for those who do get it and, “most importantly, the vaccine prevents death.”

When asked about the Excelsior Pass, an app that enables people to prove that they have been vaccinated, Pettit said determining its expiration date is a work in progress – and is subject to statistical measurements.

“We’re not sure of how long the vaccine holds up and we only have eight months of data,” he said.

Pettit said that current recommendations call for a booster shot a year after the first vaccination, but that doesn’t consider new variants and strains.

“There will be a booster shot at some point,” he predicted.

In related action, the committee forwarded a resolution to the Ways & Means Committee to extend for another six months (through Dec. 31) two temporary positions to assist with the county’s response to the coronavirus – a full-time clerk typist and a full-time COVID-19 response specialist.

“This is necessary since we continue to provide vaccinations and testing,” Pettit said. “Hopefully, this will be the only extension we need.”

In other action, the committee granted permission to apply for a grant to help the health department prevent childhood lead poisoning and for surveillance of blood lead levels in children.

Funding of $1.1 million over five years from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be awarded through cooperative agreements to support primary and secondary prevention strategies for childhood lead poisoning prevention and surveillance.

Strategies include ensuring blood lead testing and reporting; enhancing blood lead surveillance; improving linkages to recommended services; and developing policies for targeted, population-based interventions with a focus on community-based approaches for lead hazard elimination.

Calling it a “big challenge,” Petti said he expects lead poison testing to pick up as COVID subsides. Should the department receive the grant, he said another employee will be hired to assist with the large data component attached to the funding.

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