The gross mismatch between supply and demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has led to widespread dissatisfaction and frustration with the rollout. Desperate Nassau County residents, unable to secure local appointments, have ventured as far as Plattsburgh, on the Canadian border, for a shot.
But help is on the way.
President Biden announced March 2 that the United States will have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May.
On March 6, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced that Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will become a vaccination site. “The site is slated to launch later in March and will utilize the lower level exhibition hall. More details to follow,” Curran said in a ;statement.
The introduction last week of the FDA-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine was hailed by Curran and Health Commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein. The county received its first doses of the new vaccine on March 4.
The pair were at Elmont High School on Feb. 27 at a pop-up vaccination site that, via Northwell Health, administered about 1,000 vaccines to eligible residents and Sewanhaka School District staff.
“The news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a game changer,” Curran affirmed. “I’m really looking forward to getting [it] and spreading it as far and wide as we can.”
She added, “I am very optimistic about this vaccine. One and done. One dose. Regular refrigeration. Easier for pharmacies and doctors’ offices. And you don’t have to worry about that second appointment. It’s a beautiful thing. I know there are concerns about its [66 percent reported] efficacy, but it’s effective against hospitalizations and death. That to me is very important. When I’m eligible, I’ll be happy to get that vaccine.”
Added Eisenstein, “What the county executive said is the message. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine in clinical trials was 100 percent effective against death, and part of the study was done in South Africa, where the variant is.”
Eisenstein noted that one resident declined to accept the Moderna vaccine because it was “only” 94 percent effective, versus the Pfizer’s reported 95 percent.
“The answer is, get whatever vaccine you can get,” the commissioner said. “They save your life—period. That really is the whole story in a nutshell.”
Asked about the supply problem, Eisenstein replied, “We knew from the very beginning that we were going to be dealing with supply and demand issues. It was published that there wasn’t going to be enough for everybody. That’s why prioritization groups were named.”
Eisenstein said he understood the frustration, but counseled patience.
“The vaccines are new. They’ve only been out about seven or eight weeks,” he observed. “The third product is coming. The actual larger volume of vaccines are about to come. I’m going to stay positive. I think we’re going to have a relatively normal summer based on the fact that we can vaccinate the overwhelming majority of the community.”
The commissioner added that county sites at the Yes We Can Community Center and Nassau Community College are operating seven days a week, while Northwell Health and other hospitals and pharmacies are also getting as many shots into arms as possible.
Of the vaccines, Eisenstein, an infectious disease expert, said, “by day 14 or 15 there is some protection. The maximum protection is not until two weeks after the second shot. But it does build, and every day we get closer to where we want to be.”
The county also held a pop-up vaccination event in Glen Cove on March 4.
“We want to assure access to the vaccines for all of our community,” Curran said of the pop-ups. “Another aim is to reduce racial disparities and to reach everyone who is eligible. So that everyone has an equal shot to get the shot. Nassau County is leading the state among major counties in the percentage of residents who’ve been vaccinated. And we don’t want to leave any population behind.”
She added, “I know it’s frustrating, but we’re making progress. It’s taking some time but we’re getting there. And we’re also getting more and more doses from the state each week. I’ve also been advocating for the vulnerable population of seniors to have access to vaccines, so as of yesterday our Department of Health was not allowed by the state to administer the vaccine to anyone over 65, unless they had a co-morbidity.”
But the day before, in a statement, Curran said that Governor Andrew Cuomo had agreed to allow the county to begin administering vaccines to the 65-plus group starting the week of March 1.
“I was very concerned because we know that seniors are very vulnerable to serious illness and unfortunately, death, to this virus, more than the rest of the population,” Curran said. “So I am glad to we can reach out to the seniors. We’ll start making those appointments when we get our new allotments next week.”
On March 1, Curran announced that the county’s weekly vaccine allotment was 7,200, a 35 percent increase from the previous week’s allotment of 5,300.
The county has seen a decline in new positivity rates and hospitalizations, returning to the state of affairs before the holidays.
“However, we are hearing of more contagious variants, so we are asking everyone to continue to wear masks and social distance,” Curran warned. “Our record is 100 percent. Every dose that we get in we’ve gotten into someone’s arm. We’re not wasting one dose. They’re far too precious.”