While again stating that New York's ability to distribute the COVID vaccine is restricted by the limited weekly supply provided by the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state will adhere to updated federal guidelines which expand the number of people currently eligible to receive their first COVID vaccine dose.
The Centers for Disease Control have widened the field of eligible recipients to include people ages 65 and older, as well as people deemed to have a compromised immune system.
Cuomo, speaking Tuesday morning, said the updated federal guidelines now require the state to offer first COVID doses to an estimated 7 million people. And that, he added, is before the definition of "immunocompromised" is better defined.
"Immunocompromised is a category that can be defined a number of ways," he said. "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."
Currently, the state receives 300,000 doses of the COVID vaccine from the federal government each week. Several days ago, as Cuomo was announcing Phase 1-B of vaccine distribution was to begin, he suggested it might take up to 14 weeks before the additional eligible population may be able to get that first shot.
Now, he hints, it could take up to six months to vaccinate everyone eligible under Phases 1-A and 1-B.
“The dose of reality is, ‘great, now we have 7 million people eligible.’ And we still have a drip, drip, from the faucet of federal dosage availability at 300,000,” he said.
The governor said hospital workers remain the state's highest priority for receiving doses, especially with the emergence of the more contagious UK COVID strain. As of Tuesday morning, he reported a dozen cases were identified within New York. Cuomo recommends county health departments focus on essential workers including first responders, while municipal health departments and pharmacies handle the eligible general public.
He also spent portions of his Tuesday morning news conference complaining of the federal government's handling of the COVID pandemic and vaccination rollout, but expressed his personal hope that the pending change in White House leadership will mean some relief at the state level.
"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," Cuomo said. "You need more vaccine, whether it's Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, or they no longer stockpile the second dose and they release the second dose. Those are all decisions they have to make, but they have to make those decisions."