By Leah Chiappino
With vaccination eligibility opening up, and supply increasing week by week, it has become easier to get a vaccine appointment. Still, some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers — the homebound residents — have been struggling to gain access to vaccines.
Port Jefferson EMS, which serves Port Jefferson, Belle Terre and Mount Sinai, announced April 8 it would offer homebound residents the opportunity to book at-home appointments in the coming weeks.
However, PJEMS had to cancel all of the appointments when supplies were not received. The department’s deputy chief, Michael Presta, said PJEMS was approved by the New York State Department of Health a little over a month ago to be a vaccine distribution center, meaning they could set up pods and give vaccinations on-site.
They were also approved to distribute in-home vaccines through the state Community Paramedicine Vaccination Program. But despite requesting doses once a week, they have yet to receive any doses.
As they already set up the equipment, vehicles and staffing necessary for the at-home program, Presta said PJEMS reached out to the county to see if it could help. He said he was initially told the county was willing to allocate doses but has since been informed the department will need to get their doses from the state.
In an email to Presta obtained by TBR dated April 12, Dr. Jason Winslow, director of EMS and Public Health Emergency Preparedness of Suffolk County, wrote that the county was not permitted to redistribute the doses it received from New York State.
“The office of Suffolk County EMS has no involvement in the vaccination events other than to provide any EMS support the county requires,” the email read. Winslow suggested EMS providers join the county Medical Reserve Corps, and volunteer to give the vaccine at Suffolk vaccination pods.
The Town of Huntington was coordinating with several partners, such as the Visiting Nurse Service, to offer vaccines to residents, according to Lauren Lembo, the town’s public information officer.
When New York State ceased using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the 24 appointments the town had scheduled were canceled. The town was also in talks with the Health Equity Task Force of Suffolk County to coordinate with Northwell Health to have homebound appointments, which also did not come to fruition due to the Johnson & Johnson temporary pause.
County spokeswoman, Marykate Guilfoyle, said the county vaccinated 198 homebound people before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on hold. The county is waiting to see if this vaccine will be resumed before making a determination as to the next steps of the program. Appointments were made by residents who called the 311 hotline number, Guilfoyle said.
The Town of Smithtown has had similar struggles. They are looking into collaborating with St. Catherine of Siena Hospital to vaccinate the homebound, though they would likely only be able to vaccinate 10-to-20 people per week, and would only offer the program monthly due to the logistical challenges it poses.
Smithtown public information officer, Nicole Garguilo, said that refrigeration requirements for certain vaccines, as well as the 15-minute time constraints for having to observe residents after they are vaccinated, make the feasibility of the program challenging.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, vaccines should not be unrefrigerated for more than eight hours.
In Nassau County, a vaccination program was launched in order to provide vaccinations to homebound seniors. That, too, was put on hold after the temporary pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
In New York City, a program was launched at the beginning of March using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and was suspended. The city is now continuing with the Moderna vaccine.