TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Health Department is revving up its push to inform the public about the impending COVID-19 vaccination distribution and encourage participation in order to achieve, at least, herd immunity among the community. It will also be holding an information session on Jan. 6 to release more information.

To spoil the surprise: there is still no definitive timeline for when the vaccine will be widely available to the public—the “anyone who wants it” threshold that will mark the true point when certain priority criteria won’t need to be met to receive a vaccine.

But vaccinations have begun around Tompkins County: the health department stated that 390 people were vaccinated at a Cayuga Health Systems clinic held in the old Sears location in the Shops at Ithaca Mall. The first wave of vaccinations are being given to frontline medical workers, nursing home residents and staff, and eligibility will gradually expand over the next several weeks.

As laid out by Tompkins County and New York State, the following is the grouping schedule for vaccination eligibility:

Group 1

  • High-risk hospital workers (e.g. emergency room, intensive care unit, and pulmonary department staff)
  • Nursing home residents and staff
  • All long-term and congregate care residents and staff
  • EMS workers
  • Other health care workers, coroners and medical examiners

NOTE: Under the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, employees of CVS, Walgreens, and other select pharmacies will vaccinate residents and staff in long-term care facilities including nursing homes, much like they do for the flu vaccine.

Group 2

  • First responders (fire, police, National Guard)
  • Teachers/school staff (in-person instructions), childcare providers.
  • Public health workers
  • Essential frontline workers who regularly interact with public (pharmacists, grocery store workers, transit employees, etc.) or maintain critical infrastructure
  • Other long-term care facility patients and individuals living in other congregate settings
  • Individuals in general population deemed particularly high risk due to comorbidities and health conditions

Group 3

  • Individuals over 65
  • Individuals under 65 with high-risk health conditions

Group 4

  • All other essential workers

Group 5

  • Healthy adults and children. State officials estimate that vaccinations for adults not in a high priority group will begin in mid-winter. A COVID-19 vaccine may not be available for young children until more studies are completed

“We are urging everyone in our community to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as it becomes available,” said Frank Kruppa, the county’s Public Health Director. “It is important for everyone who is medically able to receive the vaccine to get it to achieve enough immunity in our community to stop the pandemic and protect yourself and loved ones. Herd immunity or community immunity means a high percentage of people – at least 70 percentage of the population – are vaccinated and their immunity will stop the virus from spreading, as well as protect those who are unable to get the vaccine. We are encouraging 100 percentage of those who are able, to get vaccinated.”

Kruppa acknowledged, as he has before, that there will be some mistrust of the vaccine among community members but offered a full endorsement of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, as reviewed by the FDA and the New York State safety board.

Both vaccinations, from Pfizer and Moderna, that are currently available in the United States should be taken in two different shots—Pfizer’s is three weeks apart, Moderna’s is four weeks apart. It will not cause a positive test result.

“The second dose is critical to ensure full protection from the virus,” states the health department’s release. Kruppa is quoted as stating, “The clinical trials for the vaccines demonstrate their effectiveness and that the vaccine will help protect you and your family. The trials report that some people feel tired or mild muscle soreness after they get the shot, similar to how you might feel after a flu shot. This is the body’s immune response being activated and a sign that the vaccine is starting to work. No serious side effects have been reported.”

The Town Hall about the vaccination distribution plan will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 6, at 4 p.m. and will be streamed on YouTube. Questions can be submitted to Dominick Recckio, the Tompkins County Communications Director at drecckio@tompkins-co.org.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com