Appearing before the Bedford Town Board on Tuesday, Jan. 5, Northern Westchester Hospital CEO Derek Anderson revealed that as of Tuesday morning, just over half of the hospital’s frontline staff had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“As of this morning, the hospital has administered a little over a thousand doses, all of them for frontline physicians,” he said. “I personally have not gotten the vaccine; I am kind of waiting to make sure that some of our more vulnerable populations and some of our frontline health care workers in the community are offered. Nonetheless, we are making good progress.”
Asked by The Record-Review how long it would be until 100% of hospital staff are vaccinated, Mr. Anderson said, “We’d love it to be 100% today. The supply has been slow.” He said there had been days when they received their doses, ran through them, and then had to close their distribution site for a couple of days until the state allocated more.
“Probably the biggest determining factor is the supply in the beginning was very, very slow,” he said. Now that the state has been under a great deal of pressure to speed up allotments and things are “kind of humming” along, he said the hope is to increase the vaccinated population at the hospital to 75% by midweek next week.
Mr. Anderson said the hospital did not require its staff to be vaccinated. “Because as an emergency use authorization, it’s still technically in a clinical trial, which you have to agree to when you get the vaccine, for moral reasons we’re not requiring staff to get it — just as anybody in the community would not be mandated to get it.”
He said some frontline health care workers at the hospital have expressed reluctance to get the vaccine. A number want to consult their physicians first. He pointed out that reactions to the vaccine had been very rare and mild. “Of the thousand people that we’ve vaccinated so far, there are three specific examples I can think of where there’s been a very mild reaction,” Mr. Anderson said. “Beyond that there have been no reactions.”
He said the hospital has just started administering the second dose, which could possibly elicit more of a reaction. He said guidance on whether a second dose could be skipped has not yet been forthcoming from federal or state health officials.
“Frankly, the limiting factor for vaccine distribution is just physically having enough people to administer the vaccine,” Mr. Anderson said. “As you can imagine, a lot of the frontline nurses and pharmacists and workers are actively treating COVID patients, and it’s a balance between that and administering the vaccine.”
It could be several more weeks until the vaccine becomes available to others, Mr. Anderson said. The next phase of the vaccination rollout could target police, firefighters, other frontline workers, and individuals 75 and over, he said. It might also include teachers, he added in response to a question. The New York State COVID-19 Vaccine website, covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov, has a feature where individuals can check their eligibility, he noted.
NWH opened an outpatient COVID-19 testing center about three weeks ago in Chappaqua. Mr. Anderson said people can get tested at no cost to the patient and do not need a prescription; most results are available in 24 to 72 hours. An appointment is needed.
Mr. Anderson pointed out that the hospital is also offering both Eli Lilly and Regeneron monoclonal antibody therapy, a one-hour outpatient infusion, administered in the tent field hospital set up outside the main hospital building in Mount Kisco. This has been the only use at the field hospital, which was erected in late March. Criteria for receiving the treatment are being COVID-19 positive, within 10 days of the onset of symptoms, having mild to moderate disease not requiring hospital admission or oxygen therapy, and having at least one risk factor. They are treating 15-20 patients per day in the field hospital, said Mr. Anderson, and have treated 236 patients since it opened Dec. 7. He said this treatment has been helping to keep down COVID hospital admissions.
As of Tuesday morning, the hospital had 32 COVID-positive patients who were admitted, about a third of the level when the virus peaked in the spring. The hospital admits 150 to 170 patients on an average day in total.
“Despite COVID, a lot of good health care continues to go on,” he said. Nevertheless, he added, “We unfortunately have seen examples of patients delaying care and coming in sicker, because they did not come in when symptoms occurred.”