Poughkeepsie, NY … Dutchess County’s Department of Behavioral & Community Health (DBCH) today provided 60 residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine through a closed Point of Dispensing (POD) mobile pop up site at New Horizons Resources in Pleasant Valley. A video from today’s event is available online.
Dutchess County Executive Molinaro said, “Dutchess County is committed to ensuring our friends and neighbors with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, receive the life-saving vaccine for which they are currently eligible in Phase 1A of New York State’s phased distribution process. Despite this pandemic, we remain steadfast in our resolve to ThinkDIFFERENTLY about residents of every ability and continue to advocate for them at the state level. In the absence of guidance at the state level, it’s critical these residents have a voice and receive the care and protection they’re rightly afforded, and Dutchess County will continue to protect its most vulnerable populations.”
Members of the Medical Reserve Corps of Dutchess County and DBCH staff provided individuals who receive support and services from New Horizons Resources, Abilities First, ARC of the Greater Hudson Valley and the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Services Office, among others, their first COVID-19 vaccination. County Executive Molinaro and DBCH leadership continue to communicate with the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Office of Mental Health (OMH) and Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) to develop a means to similarly serve their local staff and clients.
In Phase 1A of the state’s distribution process, “staff and residents at OPWDD, OMH and OASAS facilities” are among the priority groups eligible to currently receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Last week, New York State issued guidance for all facilities receiving vaccine allocation to prioritize specific segments within the Phase 1A and 1B eligibility to ensure fair distribution:
• local pharmacies are to prioritize vaccinating people 65 years and older;
• local health departments are to prioritize essential workers, such as police, fire, teachers and public transit workers;
• NYS mass vaccination sites are to prioritize 65+ and essential workers in the 1b category; and
• hospitals, federally qualified health centers (FQHC) and urgent care or ambulatory care providers are to prioritize 1A population, including healthcare workers, but may vaccinate any eligible recipient.
Nowhere in its guidance, however, does New York State enumerate specific facilities (i.e. pharmacies, hospitals, et al) at which individuals with IDD and served by OPWDD, OMH or OASAS are to be prioritized for vaccination. In his Jan. 23rd letter to healthcare providers, New York State Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker reiterates the state’s stance on prioritizing the aforementioned priority groups, though he failed to include any mention of individuals with IDD.
Additionally, the state did not send any new vaccine supply allocations to local hospitals and FQHC last week, eliminating opportunity for the IDD community to possibly access vaccinations.
Hence, County Executive Molinaro directed DBCH to prioritize that population in Dutchess County and route 60 vaccine doses of the County’s small allotment from the state to those with special needs, resulting in today’s pop-up POD.
County Executive Molinaro said, “Without specific direction from New York State as to which providers are to prioritize vaccinating the countless residents across the state who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Dutchess County has taken it upon itself to inoculate such residents locally. Hospitals cannot simply be the ‘catch-all’ for eligible groups like this who fall through the state system’s cracks; it’s not practical for them to vaccinate healthcare workers and seemingly every other eligible group. Where the state has failed our special-needs community, Dutchess County has proudly stepped up to ThinkDIFFERENTLY and serve this constituency, which has been marginalized by Albany since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Information about future Dutchess County Government-operated PODs is available at dutchessny.gov/covidvaccine, where residents can also sign up for COVID-19 information and vaccine updates, including when new appointments are available at County-run sites, based on vaccine deliveries from New York State. Dutchessny.gov/covidvaccine also offers residents updated information about vaccine availability and appointments at state-run vaccination sites, local pharmacies, physician networks and practice groups, as well as details about current New York State eligibility groups and frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Established by County Executive Molinaro in 2015, the ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative seeks to change the way individuals, businesses, organizations and communities relate to individuals with disabilities. Following Dutchess County’s example, more than 100 municipalities throughout New York State – and several others across the nation – have passed ThinkDIFFERENTLY resolutions, committing to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals of all abilities.