Home >News >World >New York Looks to Move Past Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout’s Troubled First Weeks
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is seen at
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is seen at "Chez Mauricette" coronavirus disease vaccination center in Poissy near Paris, France, January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes (REUTERS)

New York Looks to Move Past Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout’s Troubled First Weeks

Governor changed course on eligibility following bumpy month in which some officials said mismanagement caused delays and waste

This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reversed New York’s approach on the Covid-19 vaccine, loosening eligibility requirements to anyone age 65 and up.

The switch has opened up new logistical challenges. But state and local officials hope it puts more shots in arms, following a troubled initial rollout marked by delays and waste.

People involved in New York’s effort said the first month of distribution was plagued by public feuding between state and local officials, threats from Mr. Cuomo of $1 million fines for not following distribution rules, and accusations of misguided decision-making.

New York, which has suffered more Covid-19 fatalities than any other state, has distributed 37% of the 1.9 million vaccine doses it received as of Friday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage is on par with Rust Belt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania but behind large, populous states like Texas and Florida and smaller states like neighboring Connecticut, which has used 51% of its allocation, per the CDC.

New York state officials have now opened Covid-19 vaccination sites at university campuses, convention centers and stadiums, as they loosened eligibility requirements for the vaccine.

But county executives said many of the problems arose from Mr. Cuomo’s decisions to bypass local health departments and put major hospitals in charge of the earliest distributions.

The governor, a Democrat, also held firm to strict rules, based on CDC guidelines, about who was eligible for the vaccine, leading some doses to sit unused and at least some small batches of vaccine to be thrown out, officials said.

He changed course on Jan. 8 after days of pressure from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local leaders. The state began distributing vaccines to counties, and released doses to people who are not just health-care workers or residents and staff of nursing homes.

A state official said Friday that New York state had distributed about 74% of the doses that had been delivered and were under state control, and that the CDC figures include vaccination at nursing homes through a federal program. Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said the state was following CDC recommendations and focused early doses on hospitals because they employ many front-line health workers.

“We knew there was going to be a time very soon when we had the capability to deliver more shots than we had doses. It’s better to put that apparatus in place," he said. “Everyone should put their ego aside and work together."

The vaccine rollout has been bumpy in many states. California has distributed about a quarter of its shots, and a dozen jurisdictions have delivered less than 30% of their allotted doses, according to the CDC.

Arizona has administered 34% of its 571,725 doses, CDC data showed Saturday. Mounting frustration over the slow rollout there led Gov. Doug Ducey to issue a Dec. 30 executive order directing the state health department to create a vaccine-allocation system and permitting the agency to reassign doses.

In New York, Mr. Cuomo initially limited eligibility to the 1A group, which includes health-care workers, until this week. He said on Jan. 8 that an additional 3.8 million people—including teachers, police officers and people 75 years or older—would become eligible. Following federal guidance, the pool expanded to people 65 years or older on Tuesday and now totals an estimated 7 million eligible people.

On Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo said it could take six months to vaccinate everyone who is now eligible.

But some officials say New York lost ground in the early weeks due to what they called mismanagement by Mr. Cuomo. State law requires counties to plan for mass vaccinations, and county executives, most of whom are Republicans, said they were surprised to be passed over.

“Our hospital network wasn’t expecting and wasn’t built for vaccine distribution," said Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, a Republican. “The governor’s office is micromanaging it."

Mr. Azzopardi said Mr. Molinaro was playing politics.

Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske acknowledged that some hospitals were better prepared for distribution, and said staff refusal accounted for some variation.

“We have different hesitancies in our communities and it has taken a while to get the apparatus to do this together at each of the institutions," he said.

Mr. de Blasio and Mitchell Katz, who runs New York City’s public hospital system, asked for permission to give shots to police officers and people more than 75 years old. They said they had extra doses available because some hospital workers declined the vaccine when offered.

Mr. Cuomo said no, citing a concern that health-care workers needed to be inoculated to maintain hospital staffing. Every hospital and county that received the vaccine was required to go along with state eligibility rules that forbid the transfer of medicine without approval.

The state also threatened fines of $1 million and the revocation of the licenses of any facility that broke the rules. Additionally, Mr. Cuomo issued an executive order to fine hospitals $100,000 if they didn’t distribute the doses they were given.

The effect, in some instances, prompted a Catch-22 with a scarce commodity, said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, a Democrat. Mr. McCoy said he received a call on Jan. 7 from the director of the county-run nursing home saying there were about 20 extra vaccine doses. Did he want to allocate them to some other deserving group, like police officers?

“If you give it to anyone out of 1A, you’re subject to a fine," Mr. McCoy recalled saying. He said the doses were returned to the pharmacy running that day’s vaccination clinic, but likely spoiled.

Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday that these kinds of incidents would no longer occur. But new problems emerged as more people were eligible: A state website became overloaded and counties reported a deluge of calls.

The governor said he needed more vaccine doses, and predicted New Yorkers would now be frustrated by long wait times. He blamed the Trump administration for expanding eligibility so rapidly.

“All this volume, and it has to go through the point of a needle—literally and figuratively," Mr. Cuomo said Friday.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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