Hochul calls for local health departments to lead the way; $65 million for booster roll out

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul announced $65 million for local health departments to distribute the imminent booster COVID-19 vaccines as the new governor continued to mark her differences from former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in her messaging and approach to public health. 

Hochul emphasized the importance of deferring to health departments in local communities, where the dynamics of distribution needs can be unique, as opposed to imposing more rigid plans. 

“You tell me what you need and I’ll make sure there’s funding available,” Hochul said Tuesday from the University of Buffalo. “You figure it out. You know your communities better than anybody. Tell me how to take it literally to people, door to door.”

A third vaccine dose, of Pfizer or Moderna, is being recommended about eight months after a person received their second dose. Researchers are still looking into boosters for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson, which was rolled out later than the other two vaccines.  Hochul acknowledged there are elderly, health care workers and front-line workers who may have gotten their shot more than eight months ago and anxiously awaiting for the next, official steps from the state. 

Hochul said her administration is awaiting federal approvals before it ramps up booster sites, but plans to focus on making sure local health departments have the infrastructure in place to distribute vaccines effectively.

“I will not be micromanaging, but I will be giving guidance based on your input,” Hochul said. “I’ll be giving you the cover you need. I’ll be there to be an ally, but I will not be there to be imposing state people and locations on all of you without consultation. You tell us where there are gaps. Tell us where something needs to be enhanced by the state and we’ll be there without stepping on the local public health agencies.” 

Hochul, who is running for governor with a Democratic primary set for June, has marked her first days in office by drawing clear distinctions between her leadership style and Cuomo’s.

Cuomo was once heralded for his daily briefings on COVID-19, including receiving a now-rescinded Emmy for the presentations. Hochul, in her first coronavirus briefing, presented her information without PowerPoint slides or any charts and graphs. Instead, before many familiar faces in her hometown of Buffalo, she offered the state’s numbers alongside her vision for the state to combat the delta variant, prepare for school openings and deliver booster shots in the near future. 

“One of the takeaways I had from being in the trenches with you is that I understand: There is a role for state government and there is a role for local governments,” Hochul said. 

She again emphasized her call for mask wearing within schools, but noted that the decision is likely to change as vaccinations become available for students. She pointed to the possibility of districts where vaccination rates are high that mask mandates could be lifted prior to other districts. 

And Hochul reiterated her desire that health care workers should be vaccinated. She said the state is exploring options to avoid having a test-out option for these direct care workers with the elderly.