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Despite eligibility, no vaccine is available: Supervisor continues to push with state and county officials

Although there was a notice of COVID-19 vaccine being available at Stony Brook, the reality for Shelter Islanders remains that nothing is close and with more than 400 people registering their desire to get the vaccine on the Police Department’s Code Red site, only 60 so far have received the vaccine, Supervisor Gerry Siller told the Town Board at its Wednesday work session.

There are still 383 people signed up who have not managed to get inoculated, he said.

In terms of eligibility, no matter which groups are currently allowed to be inoculated, there is not a flow of vaccines to the East End towns, Mr. Siller said. Eligibility won’t matter until there is vaccine, he said.

He continues to reach out to county and state officials. A phone call with officials at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital revealed only that county and state are the places to contact, Mr. Siller said.

The county numbers of those who have tested positive remains at 42, but as it has been since the beginning of the pandemic, town officials are aware of more than 50 cases. The difference results from people who live on the Island at least part-time but have listed their primary addresses elsewhere with the county.

Mr. Siller pledged again to continue to push for on-Island inoculations.

In other COVID-19 news: Suffolk County is taking a step toward expanding its COVID-19 vaccination effort as County Executive Steve Bellone announced a third mass-vaccination site will open at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Selden.

The site, expected to open Feb 18, will focus on distributing vaccines to those with underlying health conditions, municipal employees and Northwell Health employees, according to Mr. Bellone.

“The college is uniquely situated for this effort,” the county executive said during a press conference at the Selden campus Wednesday, noting that all three sites are easily accessible by car or public transportation.

Mass vaccination sites are already up and running at SCCC campuses in Brentwood and Riverside, where essential workers including transit and grocery store employees and teachers are able to receive vaccines.

But beyond physical accessibility to vaccination sites, many residents, particularly seniors, are frustrated with the process of scoring an elusive appointment in the first place.

“This is not a fair situation,” county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during Wednesday’s press conference. “The rollout has come too fast, too quickly and our seniors are being left behind.”

She said she and each of her fellow legislators are hearing from senior constituents about the difficulties they face when trying to make vaccine appointments.

Currently, county appointments are mostly reserved for those who qualify because of their status as essential workers or first responders. Pharmacies have been directed to vaccinate those who are age 65 and older.

Ms. Anker said many seniors are wary of entering their personal information online and called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ease the restrictions that seniors must be vaccinated at pharmacies.

“We need to work together,” she said. “There needs to be more transparency.”

Officials on the East End also say the region is being left behind.

An enraged Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell issued a press release Friday calling for changes to the vaccine rollout, noting that the current process is “fragmented” and “chaotic.”

Officials said Wednesday that supply remains the greatest challenge.

“Science has given us a very effective and very safe vaccine but vaccinations don’t do any good in the vial,” interim SCCC president Louis Petrizzo said. “They need to be distributed and that’s why setting up these [Points of Distribution] in the communities are so very important.”

According to county officials, Suffolk received approximately 8,000 vaccines this week, up from their usual allotment of 5,000. Approximately 1,600 of those doses are expected to be administered at the new Selden site starting Thursday, if weather permits.

“We expect to see the number of vaccines available go up in the coming weeks,” Mr. Bellone said.

With a winter storm watch in effect from Thursday morning through Friday afternoon, with 4 to 8 inches of snow forecasted for the area, the county executive said the weather may delay the site’s opening. “That will only push us back slightly…We will have this site open and operating as quickly as possible,” he said.

The county executive also reported progress on a declining number of new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday. The positivity rate is currently 4.6%, down from 6.2% at the beginning of February. An additional 590 COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday and less than 550 people remain hospitalized, down from more than 675 people at the start of the month.

“Little by little, we’re making progress in the battle,” Mr. Bellone said. “We know that vaccination is ultimately the way out of this pandemic.”

For more information on vaccine appointments, visit covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov or suffolkcountyny.gov/vaccine.

The state is also running a vaccination hotline at 1-833-NYS-4VAX (1-833-697-4829) 

Those 65 and older can also check with local pharmacies, many of which are planning to offer vaccines as they become available.