Tompkins County has displayed early success with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, administering 100 percent of vaccines received from New York State.
The county received its first vaccines on Dec. 30, 2020 and began vaccinating healthcare workers, emergency medical services providers and nursing home residents. The county was able to move to Phase 1b of vaccine distribution on Jan. 11, which made individuals in younger age groups eligible.
Phase 1b is organized into two subcategories — the initial group includes individuals age 65 and older, in-person college instructors, grocery store workers and people living or working in homeless shelters. The second group includes adults with pre-existing conditions ranging from cancer to pregnancy, making them more susceptible to COVID-19 complications. Those in the second category can receive vaccines starting on Feb. 15.
The Tompkins County Health Department, will distribute vaccine appointments through category specific networks and employers rather than releasing registration links publicly.
Throughout the county, hospitals tend to reserve their stores of the vaccine for healthcare and other essential workers, while pharmacies have taken on the role of vaccinating individuals over the age of 65.
The Cayuga Health System oversees the pharmacy clinics at Kinney Drugs and Tops Friendly Markets in Lansing, in addition to the clinic at the Sears location in The Shops at Ithaca Mall.
The federal government sends vaccines to New York State, which the state administration then allocates to regions based on population size. Delays in this supply chain have limited the number of people vaccinated in Tompkins County. Although the county can deliver up to 2,000 doses per day, external distribution has limited it to between 650 and 800 per day.
The public health department has been using the Moderna vaccine, which is easier to store, while Cayuga Medical Center has mostly worked with the Pfizer vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine must be kept in freezers between -112 and -76 degrees Fahrenheit. Hospitals receive this vaccine more often, as they tend to have the required ultra-cold freezers.
For the week of Feb. 1, Tompkins County received 700 first doses, 600 of which were specifically for Phase 1b workers. The county also received 700 doses for the week of Feb. 8, which they primarily allocated to staff and faculty at elementary schools and grocery stores.
“We are prepared and have proven we can do large numbers of [vaccines] very quickly,” said Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County’s public health director. “The challenge that we still have is there’s just not enough vaccine, and we continue to work with and advocate with New York State to get as much as we can here in Tompkins, and as soon as we get it we try to get it out.”
Health care systems and hospitals around the United States have reported vaccine dosage waste issues as they struggle to efficiently vaccinate. However, Tompkins County has successfully vaccinated the local population with minimal waste.
“Less than three doses have been wasted throughout our entire event of doing over 7,000 vaccines,” Kruppa said on Feb 5. “The good news is we’re often able to pull more doses out of a vial than they originally were intended for.”