Supervisor calls for changes to ‘fragmented, chaotic’ vaccine rollout

Amid widespread confusion and frustration over when, how and where Southold residents can get the coronavirus vaccine, Supervisor Scott Russell is demanding changes to the rollout process, which he characterized as an “outrage.”

The supervisor issued a press release Friday afternoon slamming the state plan to distribute vaccines to pharmacies, health care agencies and providers in a “seemingly random basis” that lacks transparency, Mr. Russell said.

With many appointments being scheduled online, the process is difficult for some seniors who don’t have access or aren’t tech savvy.

Kathy Deacon of Greenport said Friday she’s been calling local pharmacies persistently to try and track down information and appointments for her and her husband, who are both over 65, without any success. Calling primary health providers hasn’t been much help either, she said.

For Ms. Deacon, the process of vaccine hunting feels more like a full-time job. “You feel like a character in a Kafka novel,” she said Friday. “There are too many overburdened competing vendors and nobody knows who’s getting what.

“It’s chaotic,” she added. “Nobody seems to have a handle on this and there’s not enough vaccine — that’s the main problem.”

But a shortage of vaccines, Mr. Russell said, shouldn’t also mean a shortage of information and said the “pop up” style plan forces residents to rely on word-of-mouth, often too late, when additional vaccination sites become available.

The closest state-run vaccination centers are located at Jones Beach and at Stony Brook University, which local officials have argued is too far a drive, especially for older residents. A Suffolk County COVID-19 Vaccination Center is operating at Suffolk County Community College in Riverside.

The lack of advance notice to the community when vaccines are available at different locations leads to disappointment and frustration for those who simply don’t know when vaccines are being offered, the supervisor said. “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.” 

Mr. Russell also criticized the lack of communication with the towns, which he believes are best suited to get the word out to its residents.

The vaccine site set up at Suffolk County Community College in Riverside on Friday. (Credit: Courtesy of Liz Werkmeister)

To address the issues, the town has joined with the four other supervisors on the East End, as well as several mayors, to demand the state open a mass vaccination location on the East End.

Directed by the governor’s office to identify a site that could be used for testing in Southold, Mr. Russell said the Peconic Lane Community Center would be an ideal location.

“With four rooms, we can provide one as a waiting area, a second for administering vaccines and a third for the required observation area before the patient can be released. The fourth can be used for staffing and equipment. [Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital] already inspected the building and thinks it is a good location,” Mr. Russell said in an email Friday.

The town would also be positioned to offer transportation to the community center for residents who are unable to drive, he said. “We have done our part; now is the time for New York State to do its part.”

As local officials continue to work with state and county elected and health officials, residents are urged to continue to monitor the state Department of Health website, county health department and town website.

Several area pharmacies, including Barths in Jamesport, have also begun allowing elderly residents to submit paper copies of vaccine consent forms that will function as a wait list as the pharmacy receives vaccine doses.

An employee of Barths told a reporter that by Friday afternoon, they had collected over 3,000 forms from residents who want the vaccine

Residents can call the supervisor’s office at 631-765-1889 with questions.

National pharmacy chains should begin to receive more doses of the vaccine as the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program begins. The collaboration between the federal government, states and national chains is intended to help expand distribution of the vaccine through pharmacies. Participants for New York are currently CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens. Vaccines are by appointment only. CVS began the distribution on Thursday.

Officials in New York have said pharmacies would be the main source of distribution for the over-65 population. Pharmacies had been paired with nursing homes during the initial rollout of the vaccine in New York.

As the program scales up, vaccinations will be offered at more than 40,000 locations across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of more than 335,000 doses, including first and second, have been administered on Long Island to date, representing 86% of the total doses received, according to the state Department of Health’s data on Friday.

The governor’s office said on Friday that “the federal government has increased the weekly supply by more than 20 percent over the next three weeks, but New York’s vast distribution network and large population of eligible individuals still far exceed the supply coming from the federal government.”

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