Santos displeased with ‘opaque’ vaccine process

Kearny Mayor Alberto G. Santos File photo

Kearny Mayor Alberto G. Santos is not happy with the way the COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed — and he says the Town of Kearny certainly hasn’t gotten its fair share of it.

In a social-media post Jan. 26, the mayor illustrated his frustration with a photo taken of a vaccination clinic that had been scheduled at Kearny High School. The photo showed the large room, with vaccine workers — and very few patients.

“A picture is worth a thousand words: this is the Kearny Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic today at the Kearny High School cafeteria,” Santos wrote. ‘We’ll vaccinate 100 persons at this location by early this afternoon. Doesn’t look busy, right? We could do twice the number, but we didn’t get more vaccine! We have more than adequate staffing to assist with registration, nurses for vaccination and EMTs for observation — and a large room to separate the different groups. We also can’t schedule any more clinics until the State of NJ and Hudson County supply the Kearny Health Department with more vaccine.

“Vaccination centers need to be set up in residential neighborhoods accessible to vulnerable populations such as seniors and those who don’t have a vehicle. The county’s Juneau Center site in South Kearny is 5 1/2 miles from the nearest residential home in Kearny and is not reachable by public transportation. This geographic distance creates an undue burden on the very communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID. Give us more vaccine!”

After reading the post, The Observer contacted Santos who agreed to expand on his frustrations.

We present it to you now in Question & Answer format.

The Observer (TO): Your post was critical of the county center’s location. Do you believe a town like ours should be getting more doses rather than sending so many doses to South Kearny? 

Santos (S): The federal government procures the vaccine and then allocates doses to the states proportionately based on the population of each state. The State of New Jersey should follow the same method in distributing vaccines to municipalities, but it doesn’t. Instead, the state has delegated allocation authority to the County of Hudson, which is not allocating supply based on municipal population.

TO: I recall that the governor gave permission to the county to handle distribution of doses to municipalities. If true, do you believe the county is disproportionately giving doses to other towns? 

S: The county’s allocation method is opaque. Based on its share of the total county population, Kearny should receive 6% of vaccine doses sent to the county. We haven’t received anywhere near that amount. Some of it is going to the county’s regional distribution center in South Kearny (near Truck Route 1&9) but that location is more than five miles away from the nearest Kearny residence.

TO: What’s the number of those vaccinated in Kearny vs. the number of those who have requested vaccination?

S: From Jan. 18 to Jan. 28, the Kearny Health Department has administered 570 vaccines at various locations such as the Water Department, the Hartung Recreation Center and Kearny High School. That is a drop in the bucket of demand for vaccine.  Based on the current eligibility criteria of 65 and older, and those 16 to 64 with a serious health condition, it’s estimated that approximately 30% of the town is eligible for vaccine. We receive desperate calls from residents daily.

The 570 doses administered to date refers to Kearny residents under the current eligibility criteria only. Another 100 will be administered on Wednesday, Feb. 3. The 570 number does not include the first-dose vaccines that have already been administered at senior housing at Spruce Terrace and 681 Schuyler Ave., and at the Alaris nursing homes on Bergen Avenue and Belgrove Drive (those doses were administered by CVS or Walgreens pursuant to a federal contract; the town’s Health Department helped in coordinating logistics at the senior housing sites including having Kearny EMTs and nurses present when the vaccines were administered at those locations).  In addition, the 570 number does not include the first doses of vaccine already administered to Kearny EMTs, nurses, firefighters and police.

TO: How many vaccine doses does the town need?  

S: We have adequate nursing and EMT staff to easily dispense 150 to 200 vaccines daily.

TO: Do you know who is responsible for this delay?  

 S: Only two vaccines have received emergency approval so far. The manufacturers are facing  serious constraints in meeting global demand. Scarcity combined with opaque distribution guidelines from the State of New Jersey have created the current disorganization and inequitable distribution of supply.

TO: What would you suggest to those who want, but who can’t get, the vaccine? What’s the best steps to take?

S: Keep monitoring the town website (, or call the Kearny Health Department or my office at Town Hall to check on availability. It can change day to day. Keep in mind that appointments are only made at the time that supply is confirmed and it’s publicly announced so that everyone has a shot at trying to get one of the vaccine appointments. In addition, federally licensed health clinics, such as North Hudson Community Action Corp., can also vaccinate residents if a resident is willing to go to the North Hudson clinic in Union City.

TO: President Biden bought 200 million more doses. Will this help or is that too far away from becoming a reality? 

S: Too far away.  The manufacturers have until this summer to meet the federal government’s recent additional vaccine purchase. A month ago, there was a short window to purchase additional supply from Pfizer for first quarter 2021, but the US government turned Pfizer’s offer down and that additional allotment was sold to the European Union.

TO: Is there anything else you’d like residents to know? Say anything you’d like. 

S: I’m hopeful that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate is approved soon so that we get additional vaccine supply. We also need transparency in the distribution of vaccine from state and county officials so we can be confident that no one is getting favorable treatment or cutting the line. I hope we can work together with State and County officials in addressing these concerns.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.