Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and County Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza M.D. have jointly named a czar to oversee the county’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Appointed to the post as a special adviser to Mendoza is Nancy Bennett M.D., director of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Center for Community Health & Prevention.
Pronouncing the county fortunate to have someone with Bennett’s “unique skillset” to oversee the vaccine program, Bello predicts the effort will be “a massive undertaking unlike anything we’ve had to plan for before … requir(ing) an unprecedented level of coordination, education, and communication.”
Bennett, who is known as Nana, has headed the URMC community health center since founding it in 2006. She had previously served as Monroe County deputy director of public health since 1992. From 2006 to 2009, she held the county and URMC posts jointly. Then from 2015 to 2018, she chaired the Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Along with Bennett’s appointment, Bello named Common Ground Health CEO Wade Norwood to lead COVID-19 vaccine community engagement and education efforts. Norwood has headed Common Ground Health since 2006. Formerly known as the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, Common Ground Health has spearheaded efforts to extend health care services to underserved populations, fielding drives to remediate lead pollution in area residences and cut the incidence of hypertension among Black and Latino residents.
“Communities of color and folks living in poverty, particularly in rural communities, have been forced to the frontlines of this public health crisis with fewer resources to protect themselves, including being less likely to have sick leave, health care and jobs that allowed them to work from home. The result has been higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 among communities of color,” Norwood says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization in mid-December for a rollout of two newly developed vaccines—the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines—to begin immediately. How soon either will become widely available is not yet clear. Local officials estimate that general distribution COVID-19 vaccines will not begin before mid-summer.
In accordance with a state distribution plan, frontline nurses, doctors and other health care workers at the UR Medicine and Rochester Regional Health systems have been inoculated as part of the first phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine program. Those workers await a second shot of the required two doses to complete their immunizations.
The state so far has only announced details of the first phase its COVID-19 vaccine program. All state residents are eventually supposed to get free inoculations as supplies become available. The state’s ability to carry through will depend in large part on how soon supplies are sent out in a national program.
As 2020 drew to a close last week, the federal government was 6 million doses short of the 20 million doses the Trump administration had said would be sent to states by year’s end, and just over 3 million doses had been administered.
Phase I of New York’s plan calls for inoculating a variety of health care workers and individuals in related jobs including high-risk hospital workers; urgent-care facility workers, Federally Qualified Health Center employees; emergency medical service workers; coroners, medical examiners and some funeral workers. Also covered in Phase I are staff and residents and nursing homes and state-run health care facilities.
Across New York, more than 203,000 doses have been administered so far, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Dec. 31. The state was expecting another 239,000 doses including 139,400 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and 119,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine to follow within the week, Cuomo said.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.