TODAY'S PAPER
44° Good Morning
44° Good Morning
NewsHealthCoronavirus

State to give COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older or immunocompromised

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday that people 65 or older and others with compromised immune systems are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, as the state expanded the list for the second time in a week. Here is Newsday's Cecilia Dowd with the story. Credit: Jeff Bachner, Howard Schnapp; AP; File Footage; www.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov; Photo Credit: Lynn-Anne Spitzer

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, John Hildebrand, Bart Jones, David Olson and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

People 65 and older and others with compromised immune systems are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday, as the state expanded the list for the second time in a week.

The move, following new federal guidelines, adds an estimated 1.8 million people to the list just counting those in the expanded age group, bringing the total of those able to schedule vaccinations to more than 7 million state residents, Cuomo said.

He criticized the updated federal instructions and said that with New York receiving only 300,000 doses of vaccine a week from the federal government, it would take six months to get to all the eligible groups.

"The policy and the intelligence of the federal system eludes me," Cuomo told reporters.

"We will do the best we can, but this is a … loaves and fishes situation: 7 million eligible people, 300,000 dosages per week and 7 million people who desperately want the vaccine quickly."

The group of 65 and over are eligible immediately, Cuomo said, while it was not clear when the immunocompromised people will be added to the list.

He said determining who qualifies due to weakened immune systems is more complicated, because there is a long list of factors that could make people immunocompromised, including smoking, having diabetes, asthma, autoimmune conditions or cancer. He said the state is not yet sure how many people will be in that group.

A note to our community:

As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.

SUBSCRIBE

Cancel anytime

About 2.1 million health care workers, residents and staff in nursing homes, and others in health professions were in the first group, known as Phase 1a, made eligible for the shots. On Friday, Cuomo expanded the list to Phase 1b, including people over 75 as well as teachers, police and firefighters, transit workers and others deemed essential workers. Those 3.2 million people became eligible Monday.

That expansion of the campaign started in a chaotic manner at some pharmacies on Long Island that were inundated with calls and visitors seeking shots, even though the businesses had not received any doses.

Cuomo said Tuesday afternoon in a tweet that 665,172 people had been vaccinated in the state. The figure included 570,556 people connected to hospitals and 94,616 people involved in long-term care facilities.

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo's top aide, tweeted that 61.7% of the vaccines delivered in the state had been administered as of Tuesday afternoon.

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 deemed to be immunocompromised. The state had recently 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 Jan. 12.

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.

Added to follow federal recommendations:

  • People 65 years of age and older.
  • People who are deemed to be immunocompromised. The state will issue specific guidance on who qualifies.

SOURCE: New York State

State officials said Monday that, to cope with the intense demand, they will open mass vaccination sites, including one at Jones Beach where people were able to schedule appointments since Monday and will start getting shots Thursday.

In remarks Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar II said the federal government had moved to expand the criteria of those that can be vaccinated "to ensure doses are being put to use and put to use for the most vulnerable."

He said states should open vaccinations to those 65 and over and anyone under 65 with a comorbidity or medical condition that could make them vulnerable to the virus.

Nassau on doses: Gone in 30 minutes

Nassau County officials said Tuesday that vaccine demand is overwhelming supply and urged patience from residents.

"As quickly as we get doses, we are getting it in people’s arms," County Executive Laura Curran said. "Not one dose will be wasted."

More than 50,000 Nassau residents have been vaccinated, including 3,302 at county-run facilities at Nassau Community College in Garden City and the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury.

But Curran and Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein acknowledged frustration with the state-run booking site.

Eisenstein said the county does not have a sufficient supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to meet demand. On Monday, a shipment of 500 doses was provided to the county, with appointments booking up for those inoculations in less than 30 minutes, Eisenstein said. In total, the county expected to vaccinate 1,000 people on Tuesday.

"We are asking for as much as we can get," Eisenstein said of the vaccine supply, urging residents to exhibit patience. "Within the next few weeks, we expect a much bigger supply."

Hospitals must continue to give priority to health care workers to get the vaccines, Cuomo said, noting that hundreds of thousands of health care workers have not been vaccinated yet.

To sign up for shots, people can use the same state website and hotline unveiled Monday, but things are not guaranteed to go smoothly, which Cuomo and DeRosa blamed on constantly shifting federal policies.

DeRosa said the state has no word yet on whether the federal government will increase its weekly delivery of vaccine dosages to New York.

A drip, drip, drip of doses

Cuomo said he is following the new federal guidelines even though they create problems because "I don’t want New Yorkers to think we are not doing everything we can to make them eligible for the vaccine."

However, he said that "the dose of reality is, great, now we have 7 million people eligible and we still have a drip, drip, drip from the faucet of federal dosage availability at 300,000."

On the bright side, he said the number of new cases and people hospitalized with the virus seems to be plateauing after a spike provoked by social gatherings during the holiday season.

The statewide positivity level in test results from Monday was 7.7%, he said, with levels of 9% on Long Island and 6% in New York City. A total of 164 people died Monday of coronavirus-related causes.

An additional 1,419 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Nassau County, and Suffolk County registered 1,667 new cases, while New York City had 5,994 new positives, state figures show.

Cuomo said New York has confirmed eight new cases of the potentially more contagious variant connected to the United Kingdom and known as B.1.1.7, bringing the total of cases to 12 in the state.

Roslyn shut down its Harbor Hill and East Hills elementary schools on Tuesday, citing an "unprecedented" number of COVID-19-related cases, school officials said.

The Blue Point Elementary School in the Bayport-Blue Point school district switched to a remote schedule Monday and Tuesday due to staff members who needed to quarantine, school officials said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it will pay union workers two-hours' pay during nonwork hours to get the COVID-19 vaccine. MTA officials argued that the move would minimize service disruptions.

Vaccines 24/7 at Citi Field

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mets owner Steve Cohen said Tuesday that a 24/7 vaccination center is opening at Citi Field the week of Jan. 25. Appointments for qualifying New Yorkers can be found at nyc.gov/VaccineFinder or 877-VAX-4NYC.

A mass vaccination site also opened this week at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

The only nonresidents of New York City who should be getting vaccinated at city government sites are those who work as essential workers in the city — such as health care personnel, teachers and cops, de Blasio said.

Others, he said, shouldn't.

"They should be getting a shot at their local vaccination centers — whether it’s Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Westchester, Putnam, anywhere," he said.

Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.

A note to our community:

As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.

SUBSCRIBE

Cancel anytime

Health