Gillibrand wants task force on vaccine distribution

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks in Watertown over the summer, calling for legislation to provide local governments with direct federal relief caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Provided photo — Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

PLATTSBURGH — In light of recent news surrounding COVID-19 vaccine development, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing Congressional leadership to include funds to help stand up a public health workforce in the next round of federal relief funding.

During a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday, she said that, through the Health Force and Resilience Force proposal, such workers would, in part, aid in the distribution and administration of these injections.

“The federally-supported and locally-managed force would provide training and deploy workers to the front lines of the coronavirus response where they could amplify the work and expertise of state and local public health agencies, acting as a force multiplier and helping our overburdened medical professionals and health system meet unprecedented demand,” Gillibrand said.

The senator said the estimated cost of the proposal was $40 billion, which could be increased or decreased depending on the number of people trained.

Every community

Gillibrand noted the recent news that both Pfizer and Moderna had reported their vaccines could be more than 90 percent effective. Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, applied for emergency use authorization through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Friday.

Additionally, AstraZeneca’s candidate showed 90-percent efficacy in one regimen.

Gillibrand said the health system was already stretched thin responding to the coronavirus, and could not also be asked to manage a vaccine program.

“Public health experts and elected leaders including Gov. Cuomo and the National Governors Association have concerns that, without adequate preparation, a federal vaccine and its distribution plan would disproportionately overlook poor and minority communities,” she continued.

“This proposal would help us stand up and scale up a public force that would carry out vaccine distribution in every community from our biggest cities to our smallest rural towns upstate.”

Infrastructure, jobs

Gillibrand said the health force would additionally share credible COVID-19 public health messages and help to debunk myths and perceptions surrounding the vaccine and disease.

Building that force would accomplish multiple things on top of responding to the pandemic, such as creating infrastructure that can be used in future pandemics and for programs aimed at ongoing health crises. It would also help curb the current economic crisis by creating jobs, Gillibrand contended.

“The Health Force and Resilience Force proposal responds to the immediate pandemic-related health challenges, creates community-based jobs and service opportunities to spur our economy, and addresses the alarming racial and ethnic health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic and strengthens our infrastructure to prepare America against future health threats,” the senator said.

Under the CDC

On how the program would be rolled out in rural areas like the North Country, Gillibrand said it would utilize all aspects of the region’s existing health care system — hospitals, community health centers, pediatricians, pharmacies.

“You’re going to use the entire bandwidth of the entire health care system to be able to reach in harder to reach areas,” she added.

She also noted the existing effectiveness of ensuring child vaccinations and distributing flu vaccines to older Americans through community-based models.

The proposal is written to use existing structures under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s jurisdiction, the senator continued. That agency can work on state, local, territorial or tribal levels.

“This would be funding that the CDC would provide directly to each of those localities to recruit, hire, manage, supervise and train the health force members. The CDC would also then be able to provide the ongoing technical assistance to these funded entities to support evidence-informed training and programming.”

Biden’s plans

The health force is not a partisan idea, Gillibrand said positing it was the kind of proposal that would be included in a forthcoming relief package.

She added that it would also align with President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for addressing vaccination.

“You don’t need to get the whole $40 billion in one day, you can get some now and some in January, February,” Gillibrand said.

“But you need to start organizing it and the Biden administration is already working on the logistics about what they would do and how they would do it. This is the legislative vehicle to support that goal.”

Gillibrand has also voiced support for ensuring ultra-cold storage infrastructure is available for vaccines that require much lower temperatures.

Ensure doses

On how to ensure people receive all the doses they need in order for a COVID-19 vaccine to be effective, Gilibrand said the health care system is already set up to know how much someone should receive on a timely basis.

“The health care professionals already know how to do this.

“What they don’t have is the staff, they don’t have the extra people, the extra set of hands, the extra workers who can actually make sure that they’re able to get this done.”

“No basis in fact”

Both President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently accused each other of politicizing the vaccine.

Earlier this month, the president said vaccines would not go to New York State until Cuomo, who has stated an independent state panel will review the relevant data, authorizes it. Cuomo shot back that his panel’s review would take place at the same time the vaccine was distributed, that there would be no delay.

Regarding how she would ensure New York state gets the necessary doses of the vaccine despite the two leaders’ recent sparring, Gillibrand said there was no chance the Empire State would not get the vaccine.

“I think that was just false bravado and just meanness on behalf of the president and there’s no basis in fact. There’s no world under which New Yorkers will not be eligible for the vaccine like any other state.”


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