How many vaccines?
Two local Covid vaccination providers not providing clear information on doses received vs. doses administered, obscuring performance
YATES COUNTY -- In mid January, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the online COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker Dashboard for New York. The webpage provides the public with regularly-updated information about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to various regions throughout the state. This includes the number of doses received and the number administered. There is noticeable variation in recent regional performance, as represented by the percentage of doses administered from those received, ranging from 61% to 98%.
As of Friday, Jan. 29, the Tracker indicated that vaccine providers in the Finger Lakes have collectively administered 84% of the doses the region has received.
Obviously, this performance is essential to beating COVID-19. As the governor emphasized a day earlier in a news conference, we're in a footrace between the vaccination rate and the infection rate. At the same time, he acknowledged that there is uneven performance among regions and providers.
"Whenever you ask 100 facilities to undertake a new and challenging activity, some are going to do better than others," he said.
This raises the question of how vaccine providers that serve Yates County are performing: How many doses has each received to date and how many have they administered? As The Chronicle-Express began reaching out to various local providers, the willingness to share this information with the public has been as uneven as performance.
Yates County Public Health (YCPH) has consistently and promptly responded to requests with clear information. To date, YCPH reports receiving 370 doses and administering 372. Deputy Director Sara Christensen said that occasionally, they are able to get an extra dose from a multi-dose vial of vaccine, which explains the additional two doses the department administered. Other providers have reported being able to do the same.
Finger Lakes Health, which includes both Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital in Penn Yan and Geneva General Hospital, has been far less clear in its response. An email from a spokesperson for Finger Lakes Health indicated that 300 doses were initially received for Geneva General Hospital employees and an additional 100 doses were designated for community members eligible under Phase 1A – a total of 400 doses. However, in that same email, the doses listed as being administered through community clinics totaled 555. When asked about this discrepancy, the spokesperson initially provided the following explanation: "...you will see we were able to increase community clinic volumes and redirect vaccine from employee allocated vaccines that might not have been used by employees to our community clinics..."
This still did not clarify how 555 community doses could be administered from an initial batch of 400 – which was also used to vaccinate an undisclosed number of hospital employees. After several attempts to clarify this discrepancy, the spokesperson wrote, "We received more than the 300-400 figure you are referencing if you count staff allocations."
Rite Aid has consistently refused to share dose numbers publicly when contacted by The Chronicle-Express. Staff at the local Elm Street location have referred all questions to the corporate level. A spokesperson for the Rite Aid Corporation said the company does not share such numbers as a matter of policy. It's been reported to The Chronicle-Express that the Rite Aid on Elm Street received 100 doses sometime during the week of Jan. 11 and another 100 doses at a later time. When presented with these numbers, the Rite Aid spokesperson would only go on record as saying these numbers were incorrect.
Dr. Nancy Bennett, director of the Finger Lakes region COVID-19 Hub at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-chair of the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, was asked how important it is for local providers to be transparent about the number of doses they've received and administered. She said she thinks it's very important that there be transparency at every step along the distribution chain. However, she said that in her experience so far, any lack of transparency has not been intentional but rather a matter of being unsure about the information.
"I completely agree that communities have every right to know exactly what's happening in their community," Dr. Bennett said. "But I think there's just been difficulties with information."
Ultimately, the reason why a provider is not sharing information about its doses might not matter much. It's the simple lack of information that could increase the public's frustration or undermine the public's trust in the vaccination rollout.
This past Friday, WXXI News in Rochester reported that the chief fundraiser at the University of Rochester Medical Center told staff that "major donors" who asked for vaccines could be given special consideration and moved to the front of the vaccination line. Similar reports have come from medical centers in Florida, New Jersey, and Washington state. Also, the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that a pharmacist in Wisconsin has pleaded guilty to intentionally attempting to spoil hundreds of vaccine doses.
To assure the public that similar acts are not happening in and around Yates County, and to demonstrate that the vaccine is being distributed as efficiently and as equitably as possible, it seems essential that all local vaccine providers be consistently transparent about the number of doses they're receiving and administering.