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Patience Needed With The Vaccine Roll Out

Wow! It has been almost a year since we shut down the county due to COVID-19. While we have made a lot of progress toward safely moving around and doing business, there is still a lot to do. We have many more months ahead of us of sanitizing, masking and social distancing even with vaccines beginning to roll out. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine it not a ticket to stop these precautions as we still are unclear if vaccinated people can carry the virus and infect others. So please wear your mask, wash your hands, and keep socially distant whenever possible.

As far as the vaccine roll out, everyone involved will tell you it is going very slowly. Please have patience. There are close to 130,000 people who live in Chautauqua County and 27,000 are over the age of 65. There has not been enough vaccine distributed yet to give everyone in the eligible groups a shot. Every week, the county department of health (DOH) and community pharmacies are notified whether or not they will get vaccine and many are not opening appointments until they receive vaccine. In addition, the county DOH is being directed by New York State whether it can use the vaccine allocated for older people or first responders. The county has no control over how much is received and how it is allocated.

We sympathize with everyone’s frustration and all county employees involved are working very hard to not only get everyone vaccinated but also do all of our regular work. The Office for Aging Services (OFAS) alone has received over 3,000 calls just about vaccine in the last few weeks. That unexpected volume can’t be handled by our current workforce in one day so please be understanding if it takes us a few days to get back to you. We will return every call if you clearly leave your name, best telephone number to reach you, and the reason for your call at our NY Connect Helpline at (716)753-4582. You do not need to leave duplicate messages at our Jamestown, Mayville or Dunkirk Offices. NY Connect is part of the OFAS and all of the staff are working together to return your calls.

As far as I know right now, the Office for Aging Services is the only entity keeping a list of people who are seeking vaccine and offering vaccine appointment assistance. We are only doing this for the over 65 population because they generally have little to no access to on-line platforms or lack the ability to schedule an on-line appointment. Appointments can only be made through online platforms at pharmacies or through the Local Department of Health. Calling these places will NOT GET YOU AN APPOINTMENT. Going on OFAS’ list also does not guarantee you an appointment. We encourage people who are able, or their family members, to schedule their own appointments on-line. Search a little bit every week, but don’t make yourself crazy searching for an appointment when none are available. Appointments will open as more vaccine becomes available.

If OFAS gets access to appointments through the health department or a pharmacy, we are scheduling people off our list from oldest to youngest people. We will schedule the spouse or caregiver at the same time since they generally need to take the older person. If you do not answer your phone, we can’t schedule an appointment so please give us the best number to get in touch with you. We only need very basic information to put you on our list–your name, address, telephone and date of birth. We will NEVER ask for money, a credit card, or your social security number. When we make your appointment, we may need you to confirm that basic information and answer a series of health questions related to getting the vaccine. Pharmacies are asking that you bring your Red, White, and Blue Medicare Card and other insurance cards to your appointment but we will not ask for that over the phone. The health department requires only that you have a valid ID like a driver’s license. For those who travel to the south in the winter, you CANNOT get your first shot here and then second shot elsewhere. If you are not available for both vaccine doses at the same location three weeks apart, we will not schedule you.

Lastly, OFAS is only helping with vaccine appointments at locations within Chautauqua County. The NY State Am I Eligible site is limited to appointments at State-run vaccination sites. The closest of these is in Buffalo. If you are a veteran 65+ and have VA healthcare as your healthcare provider, check with your primary care physician at the VA in Buffalo or Erie about vaccinations. Many veterans are able to get their shots there if they are willing to travel to Buffalo or Erie, PA. As far as we know, the VA clinics in Chautauqua County do not have vaccine.

For the most up to date information on where to get vaccinated or about COVID-19 resources, visit the Chautauqua County Department of Health website at https://chqgov.com/public-health/covid-19-vaccine-information .

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