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WNY healthcare workers receive vaccine this week, general public still months away

MCSN Luke Cunningham
U.S. Navy Photo

Healthcare workers across the country started receiving COVID-19 vaccinations Monday. When can that be expected to happen in Western New York?

Thousands of doses are expected locally over the next few days, following the initial state rollout of the vaccine in New York City. Tuesday morning, Kaleida Health tweeted that it had administered its first doses to high-risk staff on Monday. Shawn Covell, a critical care nurse in the ICU at Buffalo General Medical Center, was the first Kaleida worker to get the vaccine.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stressed these first few rounds of vaccine shipments aren’t for the general public just yet.

“I guarantee you there are people in our community that will just hear the name of where it will be received and they will show up there to get vaccinated,” said Poloncarz. “Why? Because it happened in the past with all kinds of other things, including getting tested for COVID-19 in the spring. Vaccines will not be available to the general public for months.”

Before Erie County even receives the COVID-19 vaccine, agencies will have to establish the infrastructure to distribute it, including vaccination clinics, technicians and specialized storage freezers.

“We’ve ordered three super cold storage freezers and there’s other locations across Erie County that will be used for storage that are not county-owned facilities,” Poloncarz said. “So there is a cost and we’re paying for it with our CARES Act funding, the limited amount we have left.”

Once released, will vaccinations be similar to testing and be free of charge?

Mostly, thanks to the CARES Act, which mandates health insurers to fully cover the cost of the federally-funded COVID vaccines, but it still allows health providers to charge people for the service of administering it.

Poloncarz said the county is still undecided if they will charge for that.  

“I know for county government, if we receive the vaccines for free, we’ll have some costs we incur. Even free vaccines might have an administrative cost. It’s still too many months away,” he said.

Ryan Zunner joined WBFO in the summer of 2018 as an intern, before working his way up to reporter the following summer.
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