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Hochul opens COVID-19 vaccine site at NYS Fairgrounds

New York state is opening up five mass distribution centers for the coronavirus vaccine this week, including one in central New York. Residents over the age of 65, as well as first responders, teachers and others eligible to sign up for the vaccine, have started getting the shot at the New York State Fairgrounds near Syracuse.

Since Wednesday, a steady stream of individuals have been walking in and out of the Fairground's Expo Center. It's a cavernous structure, usually home to fairgoers, blow-up ice skating rinks and gigantic movie screens. Now, clearly marked signs guide people to a registration area and then to small tables manned by health care professionals who administer the vaccine. A holding area for a 15-minute observation, rounds out the experience, which one Syracuse man called “very easy and very quick.”

"It’s probably easier than the flu shot because you don’t have to check in with your doctor,” he said. “You walk in, they have a great system and it’s done and over with.”

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul watched as the vaccination site opened, calling it part of an “all hands on deck” strategy to get shots in New Yorker's arms. She also warned residents that it will be awhile before everyone gets the vaccine, simply because the state doesn’t have the doses that are parsed out by the federal government.

"Based on the numbers we have now, it’ll be six months before we can get the general population vaccinated,” Hochul said. “I say that, not because I want to bring disappointing news, but I want to manage people’s expectation."

Hochul calls on everyone who hasn’t been able to sign up for a shot to be patient, their time will come. She admitted some early blips in the registration process, with balky websites, busy phone lines and an unexpected addition of individuals over the age of 65, to the CDC’s eligibility list.

“This all of a sudden created a huge demand, literally within hours, so it’s not surprising it's more than the system could handle,” Hochul said. “I know that if you’re the person trying to go on the website or making a phone call, we do have a phone number we can call. It’s going to be frustrating for a little while. Let's just expect that. It’s going to be tough for a little while, just as it was for testing.”

Along with the state-run sites, vaccines have been available through pharmacies, hospitals and local health departments.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.