Approval for adolescents comes as cases plummet
Putnam County’s health department and pediatricians in Dutchess County will begin administering Pfizer vaccines to adolescents between 12 and 15 years old in response to federal approval, a step that comes as the shots drive down COVID-19 cases in the state and locally.
Putnam officials said they had not finalized their plans as of Thursday (May 13), but Dutchess will order Pfizer doses to distribute to local pharmacies, primary care doctors and pediatricians, including the Children’s Medical Group, CareMount, Premier Medical and Bambini Pediatrics, who will administer the shots.
Colleen Pillus, a county representative, said the county also will continue to partner with Neal Smoller, a Woodstock pharmacist who has held vaccination clinics at Dover, Pine Plains and Poughkeepsie high schools for teenagers over 16. Additional clinics will be organized at other schools, although Rombout Middle School and Beacon High School have not yet been scheduled, she said.
By Wednesday night, New York had changed the online portal for booking appointments at the mass-vaccination sites it runs to reflect eligibility for adolescents as young as 12.
The pivot follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation on Wednesday that states start administering the Pfizer vaccine “right away” to kids between 12 and 15. The drug, which had already been approved for 16- and 17-year-olds, received authorization for emergency use from the Food and Drug Administration on Monday (May 10).
While children infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 usually experience no more than mild symptoms, some cases have resulted in serious illness and deaths, and young people can infect others in their households. More than 1.5 million COVID-19 cases and 127 deaths involving adolescents and teens between 12 and 17 years old were reported between Jan. 1, 2020 and April 30, according to the CDC.
With Dutchess County’s vaccination sites largely staffed by volunteers, partnering with doctors to administer doses to adolescents is the best approach, said Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro during his weekly Facebook town hall on May 5.
“We want to be very sensitive when it comes to giving vaccines to young people, and we believe that a doctor’s office or a physician’s facility is the safest way to do that,” he said.
More than half of Dutchess and Putnam residents had received at least one vaccine dose as of Wednesday (May 12), and more than 40 percent were fully vaccinated, although a falloff in demand statewide has led health departments to begin allowing people to show up at their clinics without making an appointment.
Despite the slowdown, public officials say vaccinations have helped fuel a downturn in COVID-19 cases.
Three months after reaching pandemic highs, both Dutchess and Putnam counties are seeing infections, hospitalizations and deaths plummet. Overall cases in April fell by nearly two-thirds in Dutchess and Putnam from January highs and, as of Wednesday, the cases for this month are on pace to be far below April in both counties.
Hospitalizations in Dutchess stood at 21 as of Wednesday after topping out at 172 on Jan. 27, and cases had fallen to 352 from a high of 2,576 on Jan. 16. Putnam, which provides updated COVID-19 case data weekly, reported 53 cases and three people hospitalized at Putnam Hospital Center as of May 6. On Jan. 15, the county reported 451 active cases and 25 people hospitalized.
All of the data points are “trending in the right direction,” Molinaro said.
Michael Gusmano, a professor of public health at Rutgers University and a scholar with The Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank based in Garrison, said “the change in weather and the fact that people are spending more time outside contributes” to the fall in cases. But, he added, “there is a pretty strong correlation between the increase in vaccination and the reduction in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.”
Another sign of the pandemic waning: In March 2020, as coronavirus cases began proliferating across the state, Dutchess County partnered with Nuvance Health to open a testing site at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill.
This week the county, in partnership with a company called ProPhase, is once again offering COVID-19 testing at the stadium. But this time, the target market is people attending events that require proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Molinaro, speaking Wednesday at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck to announce the fair’s reopening from Aug. 24 to 29 after being canceled in 2020, said Dutchess is “through the emergency.”
“The public health crisis is now transitioning to a rebuilding effort,” he said.