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Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday provided New Yorkers with new information related to coronavirus vaccination eligibility. In particular, those ages 65-plus, and the immunocompromised, can now register to receive their shots earlier than expected.
“The CDC made another change in the vaccine policy. … The CDC just announced that states should open up vaccines to 65-plus,” Cuomo said. “This is another major change in a very short period of time. It's not just 65-plus. They suggest we open it up to 65-plus and immunocompromised, and they don't define immunocompromised.
“Immunocompromised is a category that can be defined a number of ways. Obviously, it's people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions; obesity can be considered immunocompromised; pregnancy, sickle cell, smoking can classify a person as immunocompromised; type 2 diabetes is immunocompromised; asthma; so that has to be defined.”
Cuomo explained, “Just so we understand what's happening now, the federal guidance started with prioritizing health care workers, which made sense, because, if nurses and doctors get sick, then the hospitals collapse – and that's what we're looking at as a worst-case scenario around the country. That's California. That was Italy at one time. And if a nurse or doctor gets sick, they come in contact with a lot of people, they can be a superspreader, and for us keeping the economy open is all about the hospital capacity.
“The prioritization for the health care workers then melted into prioritization for essential workers, police, fire, etc. That then morphed into prioritization for 75-plus, because they have the highest rate of mortality, and that now morphs into 65-plus and immunocompromised.”
Cuomo said this new eligibility poses a challenge to state supplies.
“Just to give you an idea of what that now does: That is a population of 7 million New Yorkers. 1A was 2.1. 1B was 3.2. You just added 1.8,” he said. “The immunocompromised number we don't even have yet, because it depends on how you define it; but you have a population that's eligible now of about 7 million.
“We receive 300,000 dosages per week. That has not changed. The federal government didn't give us an additional allocation. That's 300,000 per week. How do you effectively serve 7 million people all of whom are now eligible, without any priority?
“So, in other words, if I'm 90 years old, I'm in the same class as a person who is 65-plus. If I'm 90 years old and I have cancer and heart disease, I'm in the same category as a person who is 65-plus.
“Nurses and doctors who still haven't been vaccinated – and there is hundreds of thousands who haven't been vaccinated – are now in the category of 7 million, so the policy and the intelligence of the federal system alludes me. But we will do the best we can. But this is a – I happen to be Christian – loaves and fishes situation. Seven million eligible people, 300,000 dosages per week, and 7 million people who desperately want the vaccine quickly.
“Now we've opened up the largest distribution system ever operated in the state of New York. All the pharmacies – and there are thousands of pharmacies that are coming up to speed – and state-operated sites, and county-operated sites, and doctors' offices, and federally qualified health centers – and the unions of the essential workers have been very helpful. A lot of the teachers' unions are self-administering, police are self-administering, firefighters are self-administering. So, the entire distribution system is open. But at the end of the day, you only have 300,000 dosages for a population of 7 million on the other side.
“I said in the State of the State patience – we need patience at an impatient time in history.
“This compounds the request for patience, because how do you say, on one hand, 7 million people are eligible and then on the other hand say we only have 300,000 dosages per week?
“But there will be a new federal government and the new federal government, at the top of the list, has to be increasing the priority of production of dosages. You need more vaccine, whether it's Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, or they no longer stockpile the second does and they release the second dose – those are all decisions they have to make, but they have to make those decisions.
“They did a webinar here. I did a message on the webinar. The priority is open, 1A, 1B, and now 65-plus, and we have to put out a list of what's immunocompromised, but within the distribution network, the hospitals and the country departments of health, I'm sorry, the hospitals have to continue to prioritize hospital workers, because our No. 1 risk is still collapse of the hospital system. That is our No. 1 risk, and we're seeing it in states all across the nation, and we are balancing on the head of a pin our hospital capacity.”
Cuomo said, “The county health departments should focus on the essential workers, police, fire, etc. That's who they deal with. City health departments and pharmacies, the general public – because they're best equipped to handle the general public. Remember, pharmacies do the flu vaccine. Fifty percent of New Yorkers take the flu vaccine, but pharmacies have these, are accustomed to scheduling vaccines and dealing with the public, and now there's going to be a massive number of public between 75-plus and now 65-plus. But that we're going to have to do. So, focus on the populations, especially doctors, nurses, so we don't overwhelm the hospitals.”
The governor explained, “The U.K. strain is the X factor. The federal government, CDC, says the reason they're moving up the population to 65-plus is because they're afraid of the U.K. strain. Again, if you don't have the vaccines to give them, I don't know what opening up the eligibility does, but U.K. strain nationwide is up to 80 cases, and this, again, is just a situation that did not have to develop.
“The United States did not ban or test people from the U.K. even though 120 other countries did. When you don't close the front door, don't be surprised when you have the U.K. strain here. It's now up to 80 cases nationwide. It's up to 12 cases in New York. We found eight more cases, so we have 12 in New York, and we have 80 in the country, and that is what's panicking the federal officials – with good reason – because this is a much higher rate of infection.”
Cuomo added, “We are going to accept the federal guidance of the 65-plus and the immunocompromised. I don't want New Yorkers to think that we are not doing everything we can to make them eligible for the vaccine, because I want to keep people in New York as calm as we can keep people in these anxious times. And I don't want people to think that people in any other state are eligible when they're not. But, the dose of reality is great. Now we have 7 million people eligible, and we still have a drip, drip, drip from the faucet of federal dosage availability at 300,000.”