New York expands vaccinations to elderly, essential workers

A doctor prepares to administer a vaccine injection to Claudia Scott-Mighty, a patient care director at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital on Friday in Bronxville, N.Y. The second round of the vaccine increases its efficacy to 95%, according to Pfizer. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen).

ALBANY — New Yorkers at least 75 year of age, school teachers, police officers and others in jobs that put them at risk in the pandemic can begin scheduling appointments to get COVID-19 vaccinations beginning Monday, state officials said Friday.

The move represented a new effort by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration to heed the advice of county government leaders who have asked for a wider role in coordinating the response to the pandemic and end delays that allowed thousands of vaccine doses to go unused at hospitals.

But the vaccine remains in short supply, with state officials acknowledging that tens of thousand of nurses and doctors still need to be inoculated.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said under the revised approach medical workers remain the top vaccine priority group, dubbed 1A by state bureaucrats. But hospitals and clinics can now use the doses for the next priority batch of people — the front-line essential workers and those 75 and older — "if they have extra capacity," he said.

Some 500 pharmacies and various vaccine distribution sites that will assist in the effort are bound to face shortages in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines they receive, Cuomo acknowledged. He said physician networks and unions are also being enlisted in the program.

Given the pace of vaccine shipments to New York and the goal of giving the shots to 3 million people given high priority status, the governor projected it will be April 16 before the task is complete. After those doses are exhausted, the next groups to qualify will be those who are age 65 to 75 or younger people who have significant health problems. They have been branded 1C.

"We can only distribute what we receive, and 14 weeks is a long time," he told reporters.

He also warned that although those eligible for appointments can try to make one beginning Monday, it may be many week before they can get the shots.

Andy Pallotta, president of the union for public school teachers, NYSUT, said his organization had pressed to have educators and school support staff included in the opening priority groups.

"We understand that it will take time to immunize the millions in the 1a and 1b priority groups, and we look forward to the opportunity to learn more from the state on Monday about how NYSUT as a union can play a role in ensuring our members have reliable access to immunization," Pallotta said.

Michael Powers, president of the union for state corrections offices, the New York State Corrections Officers Police Benevolent Association, said the latest state guidance suggests the officers will be included in priority group 1B along with prison inmates.

Powers said the officers would prefer to be assigned a higher priority than the inmates.

With hospitals across the state still adding patients to their intensive care units as a result of coronavirus infections, Cuomo offered no timetable for when he thinks the state might return to a post-pandemic normalcy. He said the state is in a "foot race" between a rising infection rate and a rising vaccination rate, one that is being complicated by the entry of a variant strain of the virus from the United Kingdom. Testing has found that strain in a person from the Saratoga Springs area.

Following Cuomo's presentation, William Hammond, health policy analyst at the Empire Center think tank in Albany, said one of the governor's best moves was to agree to work with county governments previously left out of the loop.

"Along with other governors, Cuomo should be sparing no effort to build a vaccination system capable of injecting not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of arms per day — and put the onus on the Biden administration and manufacturers to come up with the necessary supply," Hammond said in a blog post.

When the state faced a potential shortage of ventilators last spring, Cuomo aggressively pressed the Trump administration to use the War Production Act to direct manufacturers to increase production of the devices so they could be sent to hospitals.

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