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Governor Andrew Cuomo has insisted that New York’s health-care workforce be fully vaccinated before others in the state are immunized, but in neighboring Connecticut, a looser approach is getting results more quickly.
On Friday, Cuomo reversed course after criticism, saying New York will start scheduling vaccination appointments for seniors, teachers and first responders.
According to Bloomberg’s vaccinetracker, New York has administered just 38% of the shots it has received from the U.S. government as of Jan. 7. Connecticut has worked through 46% of its supply. The difference has narrowed in recent days, with Connecticut receiving another batch of shots and New York picking up the pace of vaccination.
The gap raises questions about whether the tightly controlled rollout in the Empire State has left vaccines on the shelf even as new highs are reported in daily cases. A national debate is emerging over how to balance the goal of vaccinating high-risk populations with the need to get as many shots into arms as quickly as possible.
“You’ve got to move down the list very quickly, and quite frankly, what we absolutely ought to do is get essential workers, people with co-morbid conditions who are patients at risk, we’ve got to get this done as soon as possible,” Steven Corwin, chief executive officer of New York-Presbyterian health system, said Friday in an interview with Bloomberg TV.
More than three weeks into the U.S. Covid-19 vaccination campaign, 6.25 million doses have been administered, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. That represents about 29% of the shots distributed by the federal government. Federal officials had a goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of December.
Frustration with Cuomo’s approach boiled over in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio this week said the city has 270,000 shots going unused because of rigid rules. The state created tightly defined priority groups dictating whom to vaccinate and when.
De Blasio Friday pleaded with the governor to allow the city to start immunizing residents 75 and older. The two Democrats, who had worked together in the Clinton administration, have been feuding for years.
First in line in New York were high-risk hospital workers, such as emergency room and intensive-care staff. Other health-care personnel such as independent doctors were scheduled to be vaccinated later, though Cuomo opened vaccination to them Monday.
Cuomo on Friday said the guidelines were designed to protect the people treating coronavirus patients. They are also causing frustration among some health-care workers.
Jana Dehovitz, a pediatrician in Brooklyn, unsuccessfully tried to get vaccinated for weeks. She said she was frustrated hearing stories of politicians and specialists at large health systems who don’t see patients receiving their shots.
“Are they going to come see our patients for us since they’ll be protected?” Dehovitz said. She got the first of a two-course shot Thursday through Weill Cornell Medicine, where she is affiliated.
Hospitals in the state administered 195,078 shots this week, the largest weekly total thus far, Cuomo said. He blamed “incompetent” organizations for moving too slowly and urged them to vaccinate at all hours.
Corwin, the New York-Presbyterian CEO, said guidelines need to be loosened.
“If we do this in too rigid of a manner, too linear of a manner, if you will, I don’t think we’ll get there,” he said of vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity. “It will dribble out.”
New York will open registration to people 75 and older, teachers, first responders, public transit workers and public safety workers on Monday, Cuomo said. The state also will start sending shots to pharmacies and doctor’s offices.
Supply will remain an issue, Cuomo said, adding that New York receives 300,000 doses from the federal government every week. At that rate, the state won’t be able to immunize everyone in the first two waves until April 16. He urged people to be patient.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont in a briefing Thursday said micromanaging which populations receive the vaccination has slowed down some states. Without identifying locations, he described breakdowns between nurses and doctors in the emergency room over staff or those cleaning the same hospital room.
“We tried to provide clear guidance” on who’s eligible for vaccines and when, Lamont said.
Connecticut took a more general approach, making all health-care workers eligible immediately. The state defined the group as paid and unpaid people serving in health-care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials. Lamont said the state wanted to give health systems leeway to make their own decisions.
Yale New Haven Health began vaccinating those at the highest risk of exposure, said Richard Martinello, medical director of infection protection. The system has administered 17,839, or 76%, of the 23,550 doses allocated to it as of Wednesday, he said. It aims to immunize 80% of its 28,000 employees by the end of the month.
Martinello serves on Connecticut’s vaccine advisory committee. While creating detailed breakdowns makes logical sense, he said, it can be time consuming to ensure the right people are being vaccinated.
“That’s a challenge and it takes a lot of resources to do that,” Martinello said.
Connecticut placed first responders — including police, fire and emergency medical technicians — in its initial group eligible for vaccination, along with health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Lamont on Thursday described a “Wild West” in states that quickly opened vaccination to seniors, relying on concert-ticketing sites and creating long lines in some areas.
A more flexible approach isn’t speeding distribution in every state, however. Florida and Texas have thrown the doors open to seniors, but their administration rates are lower than New York’s.
The FDA supports states like Texas moving to age-based distribution when they have extra shots, Commissioner Stephen Hahn said Friday at a conference of the Alliance for Health Policy. He said the FDA encourages states to continue doing that, echoingcomments earlier in the week from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“We think that would go a long way toward using these vaccines appropriately,” Hahn said.
— With assistance by Anna Edney, Henry Goldman, and Keshia Clukey
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