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Cuomo: It may take New York more than seven months to vaccinate eligible groups

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday that

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday that New York State would use up its coronavirus vaccine supply within the next two days and called on distributors not to schedule appointments until they had enough doses. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Matt Clark, Lisa L. Colangelo, David Reich-Hale and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

It will take about 7 1/2 months at the current rate to vaccinate all the New Yorkers who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, and the state likely will run out of doses on a week-by-week basis, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.

The state has two or three days of supply left from this week's allocation and will have to wait for another delivery from the federal government to continue vaccinating people, he said.

"You will see a constant pattern of basically running out, waiting for the next week’s allocation, and then starting up again. We’re trying to smooth it out, but we’re also trying to get it out as soon as possible," he said. "It’s going to be a week-to-week allocation situation."

About 7 million of the state's 19.5 million people are eligible for a vaccine under the priorities set by the state. They include health care workers, police, firefighters, teachers, transit workers, and anyone over 65.

Northwell Health, a health care system based in New Hyde Park, said all of its Long Island vaccination sites will be closed Thursday because there are no doses left. Its centers in Nassau County were closed on Wednesday because there were no doses and, in Suffolk, the Central Islip stadium where the Ducks play was open with limited supply.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that New York City was forced to cancel or reschedule 23,000 vaccine appointments this week because of a lack of supply, in part resulting from logistical delays in the delivery of the Moderna vaccine.

To address the shortfall, de Blasio asked the federal government to free up 65,000 doses, currently kept in storage and reserved for a second dose, that can be used immediately to vaccinate residents. Those second doses, which may not be administered for several weeks, can be backfilled by the manufacturers, he said.

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"We need to think differently in this moment given that the overall supply is not what we need it to be," de Blasio said. "We need to rethink in this moment."

Despite the glacial speed of the campaign, Cuomo said he expects the situation to improve.

"The pace of the distribution of the vaccine is way up," he said.

In the five weeks since the state started receiving vaccines, the number of people vaccinated has increased from 34,630 in the first week to 329,849 this week.

"Week Six is going to be even higher, and dramatically so," Cuomo said, though he did not offer details.

Suffolk officials said the state sent 1,200 doses of the vaccine on Wednesday specifically for first responders. They will be administered over the next three days at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood and the Suffolk County jail in Yaphank.

Scheduling based on supply

Cuomo asked vaccine distributors not to make appointments until they are certain they will have enough doses to meet the demand.

He noted that would be difficult, since the state’s allocation varies each week.

"Don’t schedule an appointment unless you know your allocation for the next week," he said, addressing those providers. "Otherwise, you have to cancel appointments and it adds to the chaos, which is already inherent in the system."

He said the state has 1,200 distributors, but not nearly enough doses from the federal government.

His top aide, Melissa DeRosa, said state-run mass vaccination sites likely will not have to cancel appointments because the state was very "conservative" in handing out appointments for shots through mid-April and should have enough doses.

Cuomo said his focus is on making the distribution of the vaccines fair and efficient, so that health care staff, essential workers and people over 65 years of age, among qualifying groups, all get their fair share of the available shots.

"The best we can do is be fair to everyone … appreciating we don’t have enough supply," Cuomo said.

Just vaccinating those eligible in the groups designated by the state to adapt to federal guidance, "It’s going to take us seven-and-a-half months … but at least I want us to say, we were fair with what we had," he said.

Of those categories, the state said 1.3 million health care workers, or 21%, are left to be vaccinated, as well as 1.7 million essential workers, or 27%, and 3.2 million residents over 65 years old, or 52% of that population.

About 90% of vaccines delivered to Long Island have been used, and about 82% in New York City, Cuomo said.

Statewide, 65% of hospital workers have been vaccinated, with 61% on Long Island and 62% in New York City. He said the goal is to reach "herd immunity" with vaccination levels of 70% to 90%.

"I would have liked to see the health care workers leading the charge just as a sign of confidence to New Yorkers. If nurses and doctors take it, it must be safe," Cuomo said.

He said vaccinating health care workers is critical because if many doctors and nurses get sick, it will leave hospitals without needed staff to tend to coronavirus patients.

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.

Hospitalization level 'concerning'

Even with reduced positivity statewide, Cuomo called the level of people hospitalized due to the virus "concerning" for Long Island and the upstate regions of Finger Lakes and Mohawk Valley — each registering at 0.06% of patients.

On Long Island, that amounted to 1,671 people.

However, Northwell Health said it’s seen little increase in hospitalizations within its network. Its number of COVID-19 patients increased to 1,356 from 1,322 a week ago. On Long Island, the number increased to 681, from 651.

During the pandemic's height in the spring, Northwell saw daily increases of about 300 patients a day.

"It looks like we are reaching a plateau and hopefully we can begin a downturn in a bit," said Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell, adding that the drop could happen faster if the region receives more doses.

The state registered a positivity rate of 6.84% in test results from Tuesday, with the figure reaching 7.47% on Long Island — the second-highest among state regions. The number of new confirmed cases was 1,096 in Nassau, 1,224 in Suffolk and 6,594 in New York City.

Statewide, the number of people hospitalized because of the virus grew by 37, to 9,273, while 185 people died of coronavirus-related causes, including 18 in Nassau and 21 in Suffolk.

Milton L. Olive Middle School in Wyandanch moved to remote learning until a return to hybrid classes on Feb. 1 "due to the number of staff members in the building who are under quarantine," according to the letter from Superintendent Gina Talbert.

Finding the elusive shots

Many Long Island residents have complained this week about their struggles booking vaccine reservations, with state sites in the region listed as having no appointments available.

A message Wednesday on the Nassau government website said all appointments for COVID-19 vaccines at the sites operated by its Department of Health are booked until the end of the week "due to a smaller allotment of vaccines received."

"We do not anticipate any further appointments will be added until next week," the message read.

The county's health department is running vaccination clinics at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury and Nassau Community College in Garden City.

In New York City, Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said 103,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine — including 54,200 first doses and 49,200 second doses — were delayed because of "logistical issues from the distributor of the vaccine."

"We have folks right now who need help and who need to be protected," the mayor said, adding that he believed the new administration of President Joe Biden would also expedite production of the vaccine. "We need to save lives right now."

In total, the city has vaccinated just under 500,000 residents, including nearly 40,000 people in the past 24 hours.

Pharmacists on Long Island who signed up to participate in the vaccination program say they are getting extensive interest. But their supply is going quickly.

Tom D’Angelo, who runs Americare in Garden City and Franklin Square Pharmacy in Franklin Square, said Wednesday he had almost finished administering the first 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine he received. After making sure his staff was vaccinated, they turned on Monday to serving customers 65 and over.

His staff is vaccinating about 120 people a day at the Garden City site.

He is starting to book appointments to use the next 600 doses he recently received.

"We are getting our part done," said D’Angelo, president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. "If more supply comes, we can do more."

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