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Cuomo: New York on pace to run out of this week's COVID-19 vaccines on Friday 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that the state is demanding drug manufacturers explain the sharp increases in drugs used to treat COVID-19 symptoms. Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo/Mike Groll

New York State is on pace to run out of COVID-19 vaccines for the week on Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, as he pleaded with the federal government to provide more supplies on a regular basis.

The state expects to receive more vaccines for next week at some point, but the current supply is nearly gone, he said Thursday. He asked New Yorkers not to show up at vaccination sites without appointments.

"New York's vast distribution network and large population of eligible individuals far exceed the vaccine supply coming from the federal government," Cuomo said in a statement. "While the federal government has increased eligibility for the vaccine to include 7 million New Yorkers, the federal supply of vaccines has actually decreased."

Some 96,000 people were vaccinated in the state in the last 24 hours, but the state has the capacity to inoculate far more — if it could get more vaccine, state officials said.

Many Long Islanders have grown increasingly frustrated at not being able to secure appointments for the first of two shots toward inoculation for the coronavirus.

The state has vaccinated more than 1 million people over five weeks, but many more wait for the shots in a population of about 19.5 million residents.

Cuomo said Wednesday it could take seven and a half months to vaccinate the 7 million people eligible, including police, teachers, firefighters, health care workers and anyone 65 and older.

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On Long Island, 140,502 people have gotten shots, state data showed. The region has used 97% of the vaccines sent here. Statewide, 91% of vaccines have been administered for a total of 1,084,531.

New York is receiving about 250,000 doses a week, Cuomo said.

Speaking outside a state-run Jones Beach vaccination site on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state has more than 1,200 vaccination facilities and could double or triple that number "overnight," but the federal supply needs to increase first.

"Eligibility for this vaccine does not equal availability, and that is something that is frustrating for Gov. Cuomo and myself," said Hochul, referring to the increased number of people who qualify under federal recommendations. "Now everybody 65 and up can’t wait to put out their arm and get their vaccination, but we just don’t have that supply."

Virus positivity declining

The positivity level in testing for COVID-19 continued a small but steady decline, the state reported Thursday.

In test results from Wednesday, the statewide seven-day average level of new cases dropped from 6.27% the previous day to 6.23%, while on Long Island it fell from 7.47% to 7.39%.

Earlier this week, Cuomo had said he was concerned about Long Island's positivity level and the percentage of the population hospitalized in Nassau and Suffolk with the virus. After an infection spike through the holiday season, the numbers have been gradually dropping.

The positivity level on Long Island, for instance, surpassed 10% amid the holiday season. It was 7.5% for the day on Wednesday.

The number of new confirmed cases on Long Island was lower from Wednesday test results than the recent daily levels from the holiday surge. Nassau had 1,306 new cases, Suffolk had 1,505, and New York City had 5,198.

The state's daily positivity rate was at 6.2%.

A total of 174 people died in the state on Wednesday of coronavirus-related causes, while 9,055 people were hospitalized with the virus, a daily decrease of 218.

President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled his national COVID-19 strategy on his first full day in office.

Biden said the United States is entering "what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus," as he put forth a plan to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks — including a requirement that they be worn for travel.

He signed 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES

Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

New York State expanded the list of qualifying residents to encompass people 65 years of age and older as well as others with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk. The state had previously expanded its vaccination program to include essential workers and people 75 years of age and older in addition to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, among others. The supply of vaccines is limited even as more groups are added. Hospitals will continue to prioritize unvaccinated members of the first phase, focusing largely on health care workers. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on Feb. 9.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

State investigating drug prices

Meanwhile, the state is investigating price hikes of six drugs that were used or were being studied to treat COVID-19 symptoms, Cuomo said.

The state’s Office of Pharmacy Benefits is demanding drug manufacturers explain the increases, which in one case was 1,350%.

"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we've seen too many instances of pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of those in need and significantly raising the prices on lifesaving prescription drugs," Cuomo said.

"This shameful behavior cannot stand and needs to be rooted out at all costs. Companies should be on notice — if you attempt to capitalize on the health needs of New Yorkers, we will investigate you and hold you fully accountable."

The drugs include Ascor (ascorbic acid), Budesonide, Dexonto (dexamethasone), Mytesi (crofelemer), Duramorph (morphine sulfate) and Chloroquine phosphate.

A generic formulation of the corticosteroid Budesonide, produced by Cipla USA Inc., increased in price by more than 1,350% during the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the United States and after announcements it was being tested in international clinical trials to treat COVID-19 patients, the state said.

Cipla USA, based in New Jersey, did not respond to a request for comment.

Steven Weiss, a spokesman for pharmaceutical company Hikma, said the price increase for Duramorph was unrelated to the pandemic and was announced in January 2020, before the virus spread in the United States. The company lowered prices on other medication, he said.

"The increase addressed our increased costs for purchasing limited raw materials available for pain medication production, and other increased costs of manufacturing, distribution and new fees imposed on hospital administered opioid-based pain medications," Weiss said.

The other drugs increased in price anywhere from 60% to 230%, the state said.

Nubratori, Inc, said in a statement that its Dexonto medication is used as part of a physical therapy regime, not to treat COVID-19 and that its price increase was linked to costs in delivering the product as requested by physicians.

"Nubratori, Inc. has never been requested to compound Dexonto 0.4% Solution to treat COVID-19 and has only been requested by physicians to compound this product for use in physical therapy. In addition, Nubratori, Inc. has never made a sale into the state of New York," the statement read in part. "We are not aware of any medical or scientific literature that recommends, nor do we know any physicians that, prescribe Dexonto 0.4% solution for treating COVID-19."

In a statement, McGuff Pharmaceuticals said it had learned of the investigation from the governor’s announcement and "has not been contacted by any government agency about the price of ASCOR prior to this press release."

The company called "categorically false" the state’s allegations about a price increase following clinical trials for COVID-19 and said such claims "are completely without merit."

"McGuff has not increased the price of ASCOR since March, 2020 (and that was a routine annual price increase decided in February), before the impact of COVID -19 was known. Moreover, there has been no price increase of any kind after the announcement of any clinical trials," the statement said.

Rising Pharmaceuticals said it "denies the accusations leveled against the company" by Cuomo and his staff "and will vigorously defend itself against any notion that the company engaged in this alleged behavior."

The company said, on the contrary, it cut prices in early 2020 for Chloroquine "and other essential medicines used in the pandemic." It also donated product to providers and supported clinical trials, its statement said. "It is unfortunate that the Governor’s office chose to levy these accusations when in fact the record shows just the opposite and when much of our efforts were focused on providers in the State of New York," the company said.

NYC pushed back vaccine appointments

The New York City government — which on Wednesday pushed back coronavirus vaccine appointments in the coming days by a week due to supply shortages — administered 45,000 shots Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The city has administered more than 500,000 shots so far, he said.

"We’re struggling without vaccine," de Blasio said.

Due to a smaller allotment of vaccines, Nassau's health department said all appointments at its vaccination sites were fully booked for the remainder of the week.

Suffolk County said it is administering 1,200 doses to first responders at two vaccination sites: Suffolk County Community College and the Suffolk jail in Yaphank.

Cuomo said this week that the number of cases of a more contagious variant of the virus associated with the United Kingdom has risen to 22 in New York. The four latest cases include two in Suffolk County, along with two others in Saratoga and Warren counties upstate.

More than 60 nursing students at Suffolk County Community College have volunteered to help administer COVID-19 vaccines, school officials said. The college is making all three of its campuses — in Brentwood, Selden and Riverhead — available for the vaccination campaign.

In the Rockville Centre school district, South Side High School and Wilson Elementary School moved to remote learning Thursday due to virus cases, school officials said.

With Matthew Chayes and Matt Clark

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VACCINATION IN NEW YORK

The state's network of private, hospital and state vaccination sites has given the first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to nearly 976,000 people. These are the numbers reported by the state as of Thursday:

  • Percent of first and second doses administered: 91%
  • First doses received: 1,053,650
  • First doses administered: 975,958 (93%)
  • Second doses received: 136,500
  • Second doses administered: 108,573 (80%)
  • Long Island doses received: 144,750
  • Long Island doses administered: 140,502 (97%)
  • New York City doses received: 546,775
  • New York City doses administered: 491,085 (90%)

SOURCE: New York State

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