There are not enough COVID-19 doses across the Tri-State area to vaccinate those who are currently eligible. The shortage, combined with a lack of streamlined information regarding where and how to obtain a vaccine appointment, has left residents scrambling.
The level of anxiety surrounding the lack of vaccines hearkens back to spring 2020’s grocery shortages, when residents were rolling up to stores at opening in hopes to find fresh meat, Lysol wipes, or a few rolls of toilet paper.
Now, residents are calling health care providers at all hours of the day to inquire about appointment availability, consistently refreshing government and provider websites in an attempt to find an opening and posting in local Facebook groups asking neighbors for help.
And the stakes are much higher.
In the last two weeks:
• Orange County, N.Y., had 4,200 new cases and 50 fatalities.
• Passaic County, N.J., had 4,050 positive cases and 81 fatalities in the past 14 days.
• Sussex County, N.J., saw more than 1,500 new cases and 27 fatalities.
• Pike County, Pa., recorded 384 new cases and four fatalities.
‘The Wild West’
Week-to-week, local health care providers and counties in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not know how many vaccines they will receive.
According to Carol Novrit, administrator at Sussex County Department of Health and Human Services, Sussex County residents can make appointments online at Atlantic Health’s website (atlantichealth.org) or Sussex County’s website (sussex.nj.us).
At press time, there were no appointments available at either source.
The ShopRite Pharmacy in Byram is also vaccinating eligible individuals — but as is the case everywhere else, demand outweighs supply. The pharmacy’s supervisor estimates that their appointment line (201-400-8180) gets about 1,000 calls every day.
“It just feels like the ‘Wild West’ as far as order and coordination,” said Sussex County resident Donna Griff, who is waiting to hear back about appointments for herself and her husband after preregistering online at covidvaccine.nj.gov.
According to the New York State website, seven million New Yorkers are now eligible with the expansion to Phase 1B, but the state only receives approximately 250,000 doses each week from the federal government.
Warwick, N.Y., resident Mary (who asked that her last name be withheld) just wants to get her mother, Barbara, vaccinated. She’s 83 years old and has a chronic lung condition.
“I’d at least like to get her vaccinated so we could loosen the reins a little bit,” said Mary. Since her mom moved in last August, her family has only been leaving the house for doctors appointments. They get prescriptions and groceries delivered.
Tuesday, Jan. 12, Mary and Barbara visited ny.gov/vaccine and were directed to call the Orange County Department of Health to make an appointment. After trying multiple times, and sitting on hold for about 30 rings, they finally got through: Barbara would have an appointment for Thursday or Friday.
Then Thursday came and went. Friday, they called back to be told that there were no appointments available, and that they’d be contacted when more opened up.
Now, ny.gov/vaccine isn’t listing local appointment availability at all. The New York State vaccination hotline (1-833-697-4829) and its online listings at ny.gov/vaccine both switched on Thursday, Jan. 14, to only providing information about appointment availability at state-run vaccination clinics. According to a representative from the Orange County Executive’s office, this is a mistake on the state’s end — and Orange County has urged the state to update the site to account for local availability.
All Orange County hospitals, Cornerstone Family Healthcare and Orange County’s Department of health are expected to receive additional doses, but as of right now, there is no streamlined place to call or check for availability locally.
Cornerstone Family Healthcare is using a wait list to distribute vaccines to eligible individuals as they become available. To get on Cornerstone’s wait list, call 845-563-8000.
A spokesperson for Garnet Health Medical Center said they will be posting to social media when they have new vaccination appointments available.
Even though Pike County, Pennsylvania, is still focusing on Phase 1A, eligible residents are experiencing the same roadblocks.
The county does not have any set vaccination sites.
Those who work in New Jersey or New York are trying to find appointments over state lines. Milford, Pa., resident Wendy Stuart Kaplan, who works in NYC, spent four hours last Monday trying to find a place to get an appointment. She told the paper that she got an appointment in New York and is traveling to Brooklyn to get vaccinated.
Others are turning to facilities in neighboring Wayne County, such as Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers, which suspended phone and email registration on Jan. 12 due to an extraordinary number of requests and a lack of supply.
“Unfortunately, we do not know from week to week how much vaccine we will be receiving,” said WMCHC executive director Frederick Jackson.
As of press time, the WMCHC Covid vaccination hotline (570-253-8197) still is not taking new appointment registrations, and plans to provide an update on social media when there are new openings.
The Wright Center for Community Health in Hawley, Pa., is also listed as a vaccination location on pa.gov. According to The Wright Center’s Facebook page, they are experiencing extremely high call volume: 570-230-0019.
Meanwhile back in Warwick, Mary said she wasn’t confident that she and her mother would be getting a call back from the county and was still searching for alternatives. “It’s been really frustrating.”
Pennsylvania Vaccine Resources:
• Visit pa.gov and click the link to “Pennsylvania’s vaccination program” at the top of the page. Then, scroll down to find a listing of nearby providers and the contact information for each.
• Wayne Memorial Community Health Center’s Vaccination Hotline: 570-253-8197
• The Wright Center for Community Health: 570-230-0019
• Brundage’s Waymart Pharmacy in Waymart, Pa. will be updating its website when vaccines become available: brundagesrx.com ; 570-488-7979
• Get on a wait list with Lehigh Valley Health Network by visiting: mylvhn.org
New Jersey Vaccine Resources
• Pre-register at: covidvaccine.nj.gov
• Check atlantichealth.org, vaccines.shoprite.com, passaiccountynj.org/covidvax, and sussex.nj.us for appointment openings
• Call the Byram, N.J. ShopRite Pharmacy Vaccination Clinic: 201-400-8180
• The West Milford, N.J. ShopRite Pharmacy is expected to get additional doses. Visit shoprite.com/pharmacy and click “Schedule an Immunization Now” to check availability.
New York Vaccine Resources
• Go to ny.gov/vaccine and fill out the “Am I Eligible” form to see appointment availability. At press time, this only accounted for availability at state-run vaccination clinics. Orange County has urged the state to update the site with local availability.
• Check this link for openings via the Orange County Department of Health: www.bit.ly/OrangeDOH
• Call the New York State vaccination hotline: 1-833-697-4829
• Call Cornerstone Family Health to get on its waitlist: 845-563-8000
• Those unable to use or without access to the internet can call the Orange County office of the Aging for assistance: 845-615-3700