TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Officials from the Tompkins County Health Department and Cayuga Health System got a moment in the spotlight on Thursday morning, as the group fueling vaccination distribution locally celebrated its 50,0000th total dose administered.

A line of speakers including Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino, Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, New York State Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito, CHS CEO Dr. Martin Stallone, Tompkins County Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and John Carrigg, the president and CEO of UHS.

Here, the county is reaching 50,000 total doses by adding the number of people who have received their first dose of the vaccine (29,226) through the Tompkins County Health Department plus the number of second doses that have been distributed (20,805), totaling 50,031 doses given as of the morning of April 29. From county, state and other vaccination purveyors, over 60 percent of county residents have received the vaccination to this point.

Stallone started the ceremony by introducing the gathered speakers and addressing those gathered in attendance for the event, which required masks and six feet of social distance. The overall tone, both from Stallone and among the rest of the speakers, was one of wary optimism as Tompkins County creeps closer to herd immunity.

“We believed in this mission, and we put the resources forward in concert with the county with no promise of a return,” Stallone said, noting the herculean contributions of doctors, nurses, staff members and volunteers to the effort and how they’ve helped carry it throughout the pandemic. He thanked them and said that both the hospital and the community owe them a “deep debt of gratitude.”

Once Stallone was finished, he introduced the lone state official in attendance, Destito

“Congratulations to the Tompkins County Health Department who has demonstrated through their collaboration with Cayuga Medical Center what real community partnerships look like,” she said. “New York State is grateful to you for your dedication, and we know that a milestone of this nature does not happen without the hard work of many people over a long period of time.”

Kruppa and Molino both also spoke, having emerged as the most prominent local faces for the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health response to it. Stallone took the opportunity to especially commend Kruppa’s work and commitment over the last year. Only half-joking, Kruppa asked for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet to receive the shot, even just for his own sake.

“We went from those early days to what you see here now, testing thousands and thousands of people per day and now a shining star example of how you organize a mass vaccination site,” Kruppa said of the Shops at Ithaca Mall location. “I keep joking that I’m going to get a vacation here, so I’d really appreciate it if those last 40 percent could get on board.”

Molino also invoked his challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo that Tompkins County, if given 10,000 vaccines a week, could distribute them faster and more efficiently than any state-operated vaccination site. He jokingly chided Destito that he had not yet heard back from Cuomo. More seriously, he called the occasion an “important day” and noted that the county has the lowest infection rate in New York State and essentially the highest vaccination rate currently.

McBean-Clairborne added that she was proud of the county’s overall efforts, particularly its ongoing attempts to reach out to communities that can be less trusting of healthcare or traditionally have less access, like rural people or the local Black community.

She also acknowledged the educational outreach that she and others had done, especially with the Black community, highlighting the pop-up clinics that the health department has organized—initiated by one that took place at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, where McBean-Clairborne serves as executive director. She admitted to herself being skeptical of the vaccine, but that through informing herself she had grown more comfortable and was glad that she felt the county had been successful passing that information along to the wider community.

“I was one of those people, but I’m glad to be counted among that 50,000 number,” McBean-Clairborne said. “Just three weeks ago, I lost a dear cousin, we grew up like brother and sister, to COVID. And I kept thinking, ‘If he had gotten the vaccine, would he be alive today?’ (…) That’s something that resonates in my head. I want to use this platform to encourage, particularly people of color, to get this vaccine.”

Matt Butler

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