Cuomo, New York leaders keep pressure on feds for equitable COVID-19 vaccine plan

FILE PHOTO: A woman receives the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine jabs, at Guy’s Hospital in London
A woman receives the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine jabs, at Guy’s Hospital, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the British history, in London, Britain December 8, 2020.
Victoria Jones/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

On the same day that a Food & Drug Administration panel deliberated and approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for public use, Governor Andrew Cuomo and scores of community leaders across the state pushed the Trump administration once again to make the vaccine’s distribution plan more equitable.

More than 100 advocates, union leaders and other activists across the Empire State joined Cuomo in co-signing a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to alter the plan for vaccine distribution, which primarily focuses on pharmacies and medical centers across the state. They’re also seeking billions of dollars in funding toward the vaccine program.

In their letter, Cuomo and the co-signers argued that the current federal vaccine distribution program puts Black, Brown and Asian communities at a disadvantage — even though these same communities were among the hardest hit by COVID-19. 

Cuomo previously panned the program as “discriminatory” during a press conference call on Dec. 1.

“Black, Hispanic, Asian and low-income communities paid the highest price during COVID-19,” Cuomo said in a Dec. 10 statement. “Historically underserved by healthcare institutions, it is up to the federal government to rectify their program to focus on providing these communities with the highest quality care and access to the vaccine. With the first round of vaccines being distributed as soon as next week, there is no time to waste.”

The FDA panel approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Dec. 10 hearing; it’s expected the entire administration will approve it within days. Shipments of the vaccine were on standby awaiting approval. It’s expected that New York will receive the first 170,000 doses on or about Dec. 15, with priority in distribution given to nursing care residents and high-risk health care workers.

In the letter to Azar, the co-signers expressed doubt over the federal vaccine distribution plan based on the funding provided to the states, which is currently about $200 million. Cuomo cited a recent report from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials which indicated that a comprehensive vaccine program would require about $8 billion in federal funding to the states.

“Without adequate funding, distribution will not be equitable,” the co-signers wrote in the letter.

They further charged that the vaccine plan “in its current form … relies on private health facilities that have historically excluded Black and Brown communities.”

“By relying on a flawed, biased system, the administration’s approach will only serve to further widen the existing disparities in health outcomes,” the co-signers added.

Among those who affixed their names to the letter include Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP; and Reverend Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network.

The letter can be read here or in the governor’s tweet below.

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