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DOH wants to increase NY’s 9.3% COVID vax rate

DOH wants to increase NY’s 9.3% COVID vax rate

New York’s top doctor is concerned about the low number of residents who have received the latest COVID-19 vaccine with about 9.3% inoculated statewide, according to the state Health Department.

That compares to more than 70% of New Yorkers vaccinated against the coronavirus in summer 2021, or about seven months after the vaccine first became available, compared to today’s rate of just over 9%, and about 25% of nursing home residents.

“I’m the state’s doctor. I want the best for everybody — I’m concerned,” DOH Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said Monday. “I don’t want people to miss the holidays. I want people to have fun. I don’t want people to be sick, and I don’t want people to be in the hospital. So I want them to get their COVID vaccine.”

McDonald says people have grown accustomed to the coronavirus in the nearly four years since the world’s first confirmed case of the upper respiratory illness, leading to lower vaccine rates and people protected against recent mutations. He added the availability of oral prescriptions to treat COVID symptoms like Paxlovid has also impacted people’s past urgency to get vaccinated.

McDonald signed a standing order allowing any person eligible for the COVID or RSV vaccines to walk in and get the shots at participating pharmacies. New Yorkers aged 60 and older with a comorbidity are eligible to get the RSV vaccine, or about 2.4 million people across the state.

McDonald says the department will promote the vaccine now through early 2024, adding the latest COVID vaccine provides the greatest protection against serious infections, hospitalization or death.

“I think a lot of this, though, is people just needing to talk to their health care provider if they have questions, but I also think people just, quite frankly, need to look at what’s going on around them,” McDonald said. “It’s still a threat. If you haven’t been immunized, you might as well take care of that and do it before the holidays get underway.”

Forty-one New Yorkers died from complications related to a COVID-19 infection last week, according to the state Health Department. McDonald noted of the roughly 1,200 New Yorkers hospitalized with the virus to date is less than half the number of people hospitalized with a severe COVID infection this time last year.

Unvaccinated people are also more likely to suffer from long COVID, or continuing physical and mental effects from the virus.

Maya McNulty, of Schenectady County, has battled the effects of long COVID since spring 2020, including chronic fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, heart palpitations, tremors and more.

She spent weeks in a coma and on a ventilator, and has relearned to eat, walk and talk in the years since. But more questions than answers remain about long COVID.

“I’m not really sure why some people get it more than others,” McNulty told Capital Tonight. “It’s kind of a mystery. It’s a long COVID mystery.”

She is pushing state and federal lawmakers to improve resources for COVID-related illnesses and mental health conditions.

As state health experts urge New Yorkers to be more proactive against the virus, lawmakers say they’re not finished fighting back against its long-lasting effects.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara says he’ll fight to include a scholarship fund in the next budget for New York children who had a parent, caregiver or sibling die or become disabled due to COVID-19. 

Lawmakers haven’t determined how much the fund should be, but the assemblyman says those details will come later.

“What the important thing this bill does is it gets it in place,” Santabarbara continued. “And then it’s maybe a funding stream that can be continued down the road to make sure that we are addressing these families.”

Santabarbara says about 15,000 children in New York have lost a parent, or had a parent become disabled after a COVID infection.

The assemblyman said he’ll push hard for the fund in the next budget, regardless of the tough fiscal year ahead with a projected $4.3 billion deficit. 

“It’s gonna be a tough year, but this is an important issue,” he said. “We’re trying to help families, trying to support families. This is something we can’t forget about. We can’t forget about families that have experienced significant loss. … As a state, we have enough in the budget where we can do things like this.”

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