Calling it confusing and irresponsible, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente is questioning why Governor Cuomo would place the responsibility of vaccine distribution on the shoulders of already overburdened hospitals across the state.

Especially, he says, when county health department across New York are trained-in and specialize-in the logistics needed to execute mass public vaccinations, citing several successful Point of Distribution plans that were executed in recent years by county health departments, naming the SARS, Hep-A and the H1-N1 vaccines, among many others, as examples.

Picente repeatedly said that he did not lack faith in the ability of local hospitals like Mohawk Valley Health System to handle and distribute the vaccine, but said hospitals are often partners with the health department.

And. the county executive seemed to indicate the state was intentionally excluding local health departments from the distribution plans.

''While I have the ultimate respect for our hospital systems and what they're dealing with, I would disagree with that overall plan at this time. We prepare for emergencies,'' saying he's been a supporter of Cuomo's initiatives to strengthen emergency response efforts in communities around the state.

''Our hospitals are inundated, they're overwhelmed. They're doing a tremendous job under very difficult circumstances. To hand over the distribution of a community vaccine to a hospital system that is already overburdened, in my opinion is not only irresponsible, but not proper.'' The disbursement of a community vaccine is a mission of the public health system, not a hospital system, Picente said.

He stressed his concern centered on public health, not politics, and said he took no issue  with the governor's oversight of the vaccine distribution. However, he asked Cuomo to: ''Take another look at the plan that has been put in place...we're told [local governments] are not to be involved in it...we want to be a partner in this. Again, give the role to the agency that is best equipped to handle it,'' local public health departments, Picente said.

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''I have in front of me the various plans that are put together on a regular basis,'' as he held up a stack of ''massive documents'' that the Oneida County Health Department has created to execute mass community vaccinations, adding that many of those plans relating to COVID-19 were written at the state's request.

Further, Picente also did express some concern with the number of vaccines the Mohawk Valley Region has received, thus far.

In the lead up to the vaccine's rollout in New York, Cuomo said the state would receive an initial load of 170,000 vaccines, with 4,200 of those headed to the the Mohawk Valley Region.

Last week, Mohawk Valley Health System received 975 COVID-19 vaccines, however, those aren't solely for MVHS staff, or even Oneida County. Approximately 330 of those have been given to frontline MVHS workers, while the the remaining 640-plus vaccines were earmarked for healthcare workers at other hospitals in the region, like Bassett Healthcare, Nathan Littauer Hospital Association, Rome Memorial Hospital, and St. Mary’s Healthcare, officials said. Staff from those facilities traveled to Utica this past weekend to receive their first treatment of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, officials said.

It is unclear when the next batch of vaccines would be headed to the Mohawk Valley, or how many, Picente said.


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