County health 'pod' ready

Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton helped man the health department's COVID-19 vaccination POD at Kenan Center Arena in Lockport on Wednesday. (James Neiss/staff photographer) 

LOCKPORT — This week, 400 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were secured by the Niagara County Department of Health for eligible county residents. According to Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton says the county could use “10 times that easily.”

“We’ve got the staff, we got the volunteers, we got the facility,” Stapleton said. “I just need to get vaccine, that’s really the only thing that’s holding us up.”

On Wednesday, Stapleton called the Union-Sun & Journal from the Kenan Center, where a health department-run vaccination POD (Point of Dispensing) has been established.

The POD is much like a Covid test site, but “on steroids,” he said.

“I opened up 400 slots (Tuesday) and they were probably filled within an hour,” Stapleton said. “We have a number of people, 65 plus, who got on just yesterday for today’s appointment.”

Stapleton noted that some sites run by the state have canceled appointments because of the weather. He said his department didn’t want to do that and moved its POD indoors for the next four to five weeks.

“We’re not losing anything by going inside, and it’s a little safer for the staff and the people going through,” he said.

Stapleton explained how the county has been able to dispense vaccine so far. He noted one of the ways to get an appointment — which he stressed would not be on the day it's made — is to call 211.

“Let’s say someone doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t have a cell phone, doesn’t know how to use those or has bad reception in the area, they can call 211,” he said. “It’s primarily for seniors to walk them through the process, so they can get signed up.”

The very first people in Niagara County to get vaccinated were health professionals in hospitals; the county had a list. Then first responders were offered the vaccine, through the sheriff's office and Niagara County Emergency Management, which communicated with EMS personnel, paramedics, ambulance drivers and EMTs. To add to these avenues of communication, Stapleton said he also uses press releases and posts updates on the health department's website and Facebook.

Senior citizens are also being directed to online links to make appointments at pharmacies, though Stapleton said those facilities only account for 100 vaccinations a week.

The county on Wednesday reported the deaths of nine more residents from COVID-19, as well as 148 new diagnoses, for a total of 1,146 active cases of the disease.

While discussing the ins and outs of Covid vaccination, Stapleton urged county residents to get their 2020-2021 flu shot if they haven't already.

“It’s widely available,” he said. “While waiting for (Covid) vaccination, that’s a good way of strengthening your immune system.”

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