August 6, 2021

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travel, Always a step ahead

New Yorkers Are Willing to Drive Six Hours to Nab Covid-19 Vaccine

5 min read

Facing a limited supply of Covid-19 vaccine doses and what they say is a disjointed system for securing appointments, some New York residents are planning to travel hundreds of miles across the state to get a shot.

Maura Laverty, a 66-year-old nurse from New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, said she is preparing for a road trip after nabbing an appointment in a snow-covered college town near the Canadian border.

She said she spent hours searching for a spot at locally run facilities near her in Westchester County but was unsuccessful. She then turned to a state-run web portal that lets any eligible New York state resident book appointments at 13 mass distribution hubs run by the state government.

The Jacob. K. Javits Convention Center, a state-run hub in Manhattan, was her first choice, but the only available slots were at a location in Potsdam in St. Lawrence County.

“Searching was an exercise in futility, so I’m going to make a nice little getaway,” said Ms. Laverty, who decided she would work remotely from a vacation rental for a few days while she got the jab.

Maura Laverty, a nurse from New Rochelle, is traveling about 350 miles to Potsdam for a shot.



Photo:

Maura Laverty

Other New York residents also said their vaccine appointments were a good excuse for a mini-vacation. But most described the appointment process as vexing and said they were frustrated that the state hadn’t allocated a greater number of doses to more densely populated regions.

Local officials around the state have also complained the state was diverting precious vaccine doses to its own hubs—where any New Yorker can sign up for an appointment—instead of funneling them to local pharmacies, clinics or county-run sites that serve area residents.

Peter Bartfeld, a 70-year-old lawyer, said he booked an appointment at a hub in Plattsburgh, which he estimates is a six-hour drive from his home in Valley Stream on Long Island. He selected the spot after two weeks of failing to secure a closer location.

“This is absurd,” he said. “Obviously, you have a misallocation in the state. Why do people have to drive from Long Island to Plattsburgh?”

Roughly seven million New Yorkers meet the state’s current eligibility criteria, which include people 65 years or older, health-care workers, nursing-home residents and staff, as well as essential workers including teachers. State officials said they receive around 250,000 vaccine doses a week.

Around 600,000 people have made appointments at the state vaccination hubs, Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes said, and roughly 75% of them were made by New Yorkers from the same region of the state. State officials didn’t respond to requests for demographic data about who has secured an appointment or been vaccinated.

President Biden announced plans to boost supplies of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines sent to states for the next three weeks and purchase enough additional doses to vaccinate most of the U.S. population by the end of summer. Photo: Doug Mills/Getty Images

Long Islanders can use state hubs at Jones Beach and SUNY Stony Brook, and New York City residents can use city sites or state hubs at the Javits Center or the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, each of which can vaccinate at least 1,000 people a day. For nearly all of last week, the only sites with available appointments were in Plattsburgh and Potsdam, which are in rural regions. Officials say the two sites can handle 500 appointments a day.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and health officials say vaccine doses are allocated around the state based on population, and certain providers are tasked with focusing on certain groups: hospitals for health-care workers, county-run sites for essential workers including teachers, and pharmacies for people 65 or older.

Nancy Bendiner, 73, booked appointments for herself and her husband at a state-run hub in Utica after a county-run clinic near their home in Red Hook, N.Y., filled up in nine minutes. Their appointments are on consecutive days, so they will be spending the night in Utica, she said.

Linda Puiatti, a 65-year-old painter from Dutchess County, is traveling to Binghamton. “It’s a little bit sad that we’re doing this in this lottery fashion. The closest person to the phone gets the prize,” she said.

Linda Puiatti, a painter from Dutchess County, plans to travel about 175 miles to Binghamton for her Covid-19 vaccine.



Photo:

Linda Puiatti

Melissa DeRosa,

the governor’s top aide, said state officials were making sure there was parity between locals and out-of-towners. Mr. Holmes said the state might look at rebalancing the allocation if there were persistent issues.

“Our goal is to get shots in arms as quickly and efficiently as possible—if New Yorkers in one area are not booking all available appointments, and someone is willing to travel to get a shot, that only reflects the woefully inadequate supply of vaccines we received from the Trump administration,” he said.

Biden administration officials said last week they would increase the number of doses allocated to states, a move that Mr. Cuomo welcomed.

Local leaders said their vaccine allocations decreased when the hubs opened. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, a Republican whose county includes the state hub just outside Utica, said the allocation for a drive-through distribution point set up by the county dropped from 3,000 doses during the week of Jan. 5 to 500 doses for the week of Jan. 20. The state site opened on Jan. 19.

Mr. Holmes wouldn’t say how many vaccine doses are being directed to the state hubs but said counties’ allocations were reduced because the distribution network and the eligible population that local health departments were focused on had changed.

Debra Blalock, 68, said she was concerned about road conditions, but still plans to drive to Potsdam from Dutchess County for a vaccine. She grappled with the ethics of obtaining an appointment in another part of the state, but said she felt comfortable doing so because people who lived closer had the same ability to sign up.

While dreading his trip north, Mr. Bartfeld said he learned on Thursday that he was able to obtain a last-minute appointment to the state hub in Queens. The process was efficient and everyone was pleasant, he said.

“Once you get that appointment, it’s gold,” he said.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at [email protected]

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