What did a FOIL request to DOH reveal about mass COVID vaccination sites?

Coronavirus

Pianist and CUNY music professor Barbara Podgurski plays with a string quartet for people who had received a COVID-19 vaccination and were waiting during the observation period, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in New York. The convention center, which early in the pandemic served as a temporary field hospital, has been converted into a massive vaccination site. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- Rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines in New York, as in many other places, happened in waves with those most vulnerable to the virus eligible beginning in early 2021. Mass vaccination sites or PODs were opened across New York and when millions of people became eligible in mid-February the state’s online eligibility and appointment scheduling site could not keep up.

Information NEWS10 obtained from a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request on POD sites shows there were thousands more appointments booked than there were appointments available. It also shows a discrepancy between the amount of first and second doses administered.

Because POD sites were called into question, NEWS10 filed a FOIL request to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) asking for more information about POD sites on February 22. To try and get a better sense of what was happening at POD sites, NEWS10 posed three questions in its FOIL request:

  • How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered at each NYS Mass Vaccination POD site?
  • How many appointments have been or are able to be made at each POD site?
  • How many appointments have been made at each NYS Mass Vaccination POD site to date?

On March 25, the DOH sent an extension letter saying they needed more time to gather the information and gave a tentative date of May 25 when they would be able to send the information. A second extension letter was received from the DOH on May 25, moving the response deadline to July 29.

The third and final extension letter was sent to NEWS10 on July 29 with a new deadline of October 1. Approximately seven months later, on September 14, and nearly three months after the closure of POD sites, the DOH sent its response to the FOIL request.

According to the DOH, second dose appointments were made when people went to POD sites to get their first dose. Therefore, booked appointments and available appointments are only for first doses beginning with February 22. Based on this there were 57,864 more appointments booked than there were available slots.

Sites that had the most booked appointments over the number of available appointments were the Javits Center (16,064), Westchester County Center (9,279), and the NYS Fairgrounds (8,540). The POD site at UAlbany was absent from the list sent by the DOH. NEWS10 reached out to them to find out if this was an oversight.

Look at the number of available appointments booked at POD sites compared to the number of booked appointments, according to the information sent by the DOH, in the table below.

POD siteFirst doseAvailable appointmentsBooked appointments
Javits Center46,52035,21151,275
NYS Fairgrounds44,86838,36746,907
Westchester County Center42,06135,33544,614
Wadsworth Center35,94931,33637,976
Jones Beach28,38223,21330,230
Aqueduct Racetrack Racing Hall22,62322,65723,853
Rochester Dome Arena22,71122,04923,088
SUNY Polytechnic Institute19,81719,24220,702
SUNY Binghampton19,02318,75019,500
University at Buffalo17,62316,58918,540
Plattsburgh International Airport17,28517,50017,978
SUNY Potsdam Field House16,88917,49418,012
Yankee Stadium18,734*N/A*N/A
SUNY Stonybrook25,57124,04426,976
Totals378,056321,787379,651
Source: DOH

In its correspondence, the DOH acknowledged challenges with the state’s online eligibility and appointment website when POD site first opened. Despite being, in some cases heavily overbooked, the DOH said all appointments were honored.

“In beginning days, due to mass appointment scheduling, the system experienced overbooking of appointments; all appointments, even those booked overcapacity, were honored. As a result, moving forward the system implemented a waiting room for each site to control the capacity of individuals in queue and registering at one time to ensure sites did not continue to be overbooked with limited vaccine supply,” they said.

Data sent from the DOH also show a large discrepancy between the number of first and second doses. Unfortunately, because information on how many first doses given were Johnson & Johnson (one dose shot) versus Pfizer or Moderna (both two-dose shots), there is no way to tell if the difference between first and second doses is representative of this fact, if people went elsewhere to get their second dose, or if they skipped it altogether.

POD siteFirst doseSecond doseTotal doses
Javits Center46,52018,48865,008
NYS Fairground44,86819,08563,953
Westchester County Center42,06119,72561,786
Wadsworth Center35,94916,64552,594
Jones Beach28,38215,13143,513
Aqueduct Racetrack Racing Hall22,6236,85429,477
Rochester Dome Arena22,7116,50529,216
SUNY Polytechnic Institute19,8177,09626,913
SUNY Binghampton19,0236,93825,961
University at Buffalo17,6237,00724,630
Plattsburgh International Airport17,2857,24024,525
SUNY Potsdam Field House16,8897,29724,186
Yankee Stadium18,73410918,843
SUNY Stonybrook25,57131,35224,044
Totals378,056143,901521,957

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