Vaccine eligibility for New Yorkers will expand to include anyone over the age of 30, effective Tuesday.
In a release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced that so-called "universal eligibility" for COVID-19 vaccination will take effect for anyone 16 and up on April 6. This will provide full eligibility for appointments and vaccines nearly a month in advance of President Joe Biden's May 1 deadline.
A judge's ruling later in the day widened the eligible pool even further, with a decision saying the state immediately had to offer vaccinations to its entire population of incarcerated people.
Vaccine eligibility had previously been restricted to people over 50, people in certain job categories and those with health conditions that put them at risk for serious illness if they were to become infected with the coronavirus. Previously, 12.2 million out of over 15 million New Yorkers over the age of 16 were eligible for COVID-19 vaccination as of last week.
In the legal ruling, State Supreme Court Justice Alison Tuitt in the Bronx addressed how all incarcerated New Yorkers were not included in the earlier categories of those eligible, even as those in other group settings were.
Last year, Gov. Cuomo often spoke about how people living in congregate settings, including nursing homes and jails, were uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. His proposed vaccination plan released last fall cited CDC guidance that said people who are incarcerated or detained in correctional facilities are at risk from the virus.
But he has declined to expand eligibility to all incarcerated people this year, even as he's allowed all correction officers to get vaccines.
Tuitt said the state's decision to exclude incarcerated people from being eligible to get the vaccine "was unquestionably arbitrary and capricious."
She called it "an unfair and unjust decision" that "was not based in law or fact and was an abuse of discretion."
A statement from Acting Counsel to the Governor, Beth Garvey, on Monday evening said that the state, "will expand eligibility to include all incarcerated individuals whether in state or local facilities. Our goal all along has been to implement a vaccination program that is fair and equitable, and these changes will help ensure that continues to happen."
Cuomo's new rule comes as New York continues to face among the highest levels of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the nation. Infectious disease experts say the rise of potentially more contagious variants and eased COVID-19 restrictions could be fueling the virus's spread in New York and New Jersey, in particular.
Nearly three out of 10 New Yorkers have received at least a first dose of the vaccine, in line with the national average, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. And 15.2% of 19 million New Yorkers are fully vaccinated — the 39th lowest level in the nation, according to The Associated Press's analysis of federal data.
Local and county officials for weeks have urged the governor to ease restrictions on eligibility and who can administer vaccines to help speed up vaccinations. The governor has said low vaccine supplies held up vaccine distribution early on in New York's rollout, but he has eased eligibility restrictions in recent weeks as supply has increased.
New York received an average of roughly 790,000 first doses each week in March from the federal government, according to the state's data, up from an average of 350,000 in February. Anyone wanting a vaccine should make an appointment, since demand still exceeds supplies from the federal government.