This story was updated after a news conference Feb. 10.
How many Blacks and Latinos in Rochester and Monroe County have received COVID-19 vaccine is an open question because the state has not released data.
In the week of Feb. 2, Minority Reporter asked the University of Rochester Medical Center and Common Ground Health, who are part of the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub, for the number of minorities who have received at least their first dose.
Vaccine availability is an issue since the state expanded the eligibility criteria without having enough. The state receives its supply from the federal government. The state then apportions vaccine among the counties.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines each require two doses. The shortage is with the first dose. When people receive the initial dose, they are scheduled for the second. Johnson & Johnson has a one-dose vaccine, but the Food and Drug Administration has not given emergency use authorization.
The state has said equitable distribution is a priority. But without any data, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Health are not accountable.
At one point, the state said 86% of doses received in the Finger Lakes have been administered. But that percentage wasn’t parsed by more detailed demographic or geographic information.
“We are very concerned with this and have been lobbying very hard to have access to those numbers,” Dr. Nancy Bennett, co-chair of Finger Lakes Vaccine Task Force, said Feb. 10 during an online news conference about vaccine availability.
Bennett said the data recently became available in New York City. She said there is a plan to analyze the data for accuracy with regard to race and ethnicity.
“Once we have those data, they will be shared,” she said. “It’s been a long process and we have been advocating loudly about this from the very beginning. But for reasons unknown to us, it’s been slow in coming.”
Minority Reporter asked for the percentage of available doses that were delivered and administered in minority areas. Those could be different because not all doses could have been used.
“It is essential that we have transparent data to be able to measure our effectiveness,” Wade Norwood, chief executive officer of Common Ground Health and co-chair of the Finger Lakes Vaccine Task Force, said during the news conference.
Equitable distribution gains more urgency as the state has said people with underlying health conditions including diabetes, asthma and lung diseases, heart conditions and obesity are eligible as of Feb. 15. People with sickle cell disease also are eligible.
Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health, said the county will be expanding its infrastructure to make sure the scarce resource is spread fairly.
“While we work to get through the vaccine in the week to come, simultaneously we’re working to develop a broader network to make sure we get that vaccine out to all the traditionally hard to reach corners of our community,” he said.
The state and Monroe County have held vaccine clinics for minority communities. Locally, county health officials have worked with churches and in one instance said they went door to door to tell residents about the vaccination clinic and arranged transportation.
Norwood said about 500 people were vaccinated recently at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, about 300 were vaccinated at Seneca Towers and about 285 at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church.
Questions about distribution of the scarce resource were raised in late January with reports that URMC had sent an email that suggested some people who were part of its Executive Health Program could receive vaccine. Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart and City Council member Mary Lupien wrote to UR President Sarah Mangelsdorf to get an explanation.
She and URMC chief executive officer Dr. Mark Taubman posted a message they sent to university leadership. They said there was no special clinic and that only people eligible under the state’s protocol were vaccinated. They did acknowledge that people “well-connected” to UR received the email unintentionally. However, they said those people were eligible to receive vaccine but “should not have received preferential treatment by being invited to the clinic.”
Meanwhile, reporting on the toll of COVID-19 in Black and Latino communities seems to have stalled. The surveillance report that had been provided by the URMC Center for Community Health & Prevention has not been updated since Nov. 18. A spokeswoman said the report is hold and referred to Monroe County. Requests of the county have gone unanswered.