Cuomo revamps COVID-19 vaccine policy, permits more New York essential workers to seek shots

FILE PHOTO: Vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn
FILE PHOTO: A staff member at Hamilton Park Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Walgreens Pharmacist Craig Brandt in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Yuki Iwamura/File Photo

After another imbroglio with Mayor Bill de Blasio, this one over the pace of the COVID-19 vaccination process, Governor Andrew Cuomo shook things up Friday.

The two executives tussled Thursday over the vaccination process, which the state controls. De Blasio wanted permission to buck the plan to begin vaccinating other essential workers, while Cuomo sought to stick to the plan to prioritize the frontline health care workers treating the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

After de Blasio said Friday he asked the governor to change the plan, Cuomo announced that Phase 1B of the process would begin as early as Monday — allowing for the vaccine to be administered to police officers, corrections officers, other frontline workers and teachers, as well as more than 1.4 million senior citizens 75 years of age and older.

This will overlap the ongoing Phase 1A, the health care-focused plan, which began in mid-December 2020.

Additionally, the state will encourage large union groups for eligible workers to organize their own vaccine distributions, allocating doses to these organizations if they are capable to do it. New York state will also open up 20 mass vaccination sites, including one at the Javits Center in Midtown on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

The COVID-19 vaccine distribution network will also be expanding to other doctor networks, ambulatory centers, county health departments and more than 1,200 pharmacies statewide, Cuomo added. Currently, the vaccine is primarily being distributed out of local medical centers and nursing homes.

But the vaccination effort in New York, Cuomo cautioned, will primarily be dictated by the supply. As of now, the state received about 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week; at that rate, he said, it will take New York 16 weeks — ending on or about April 16 — to fully vaccinate all people eligible in Phases 1A and 1B, provided they all elect to receive it.

“Hopefully the supply increases. We’re working with the Biden team on moving the supply out as quickly as possible,” Cuomo said, referring to talks with the incoming president. It was reported Friday that Biden plans to release additional doses of the vaccine, currently on reserve, upon taking office on Jan. 20 to speed up the vaccination process.

Until then, the governor noted, “we are rationing a scarce commodity that we don’t control. It comes from the federal government.” The state will be rationing equally, based on the population in each region.

Cuomo is hopeful that the FDA would speed up the approval of other COVID-19 vaccines still in development, such as versions produced by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which would further boost the available supply.