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State needs to boost vaccines

The COVID-19 vaccination site at the Yes We

The COVID-19 vaccination site at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury on March 17, 2021. Credit: Barry Sloan

Continued changes to vaccine eligibility in New York bring promise for those who qualify — but leave those who don't with more questions than answers.

This is easily solvable. At this point, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should be able to provide a schedule that shows how and when the state plans to open eligibility to other categories. State officials said they expect everyone who wants a vaccine should have their first shot — and a second one scheduled — by the end of May. It's best to provide a timetable now, by age or other category, that tells people when their turn likely is coming.

Cuomo said Wednesday he doesn't want to open up eligibility too wide, too quickly, given that dose availability might change. But as other states have widened their criteria successfully, New York should be able to do the same.

This is particularly important in light of how New York has shifted its eligibility standards. While the state started its vaccination effort by opening to certain essential worker categories, officials have now begun to focus on age instead. As a result, some considered essential workers in the first categories are eligible while those in subsequent ones are paused. If the state is going to continue to base eligibility on age, it has to open the spigot more quickly. Helpful to that effort: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised New York will be getting 1.65 million doses a week on average through the end of April.

Now, time is of the essence as more people need to get vaccinated to stop the spread of more contagious mutant strains.

As vaccination continues to ramp up, officials should start to redistribute appointment availability and doses across the state based on need and demand. Some of the large state-run locations, including SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Oneonta, had thousands of appointments available at various times this week, while New York City and Long Island's state sites had none. When thousands of appointments are going unbooked, state officials should redistribute vaccine availability to where it's needed most. Similarly, if upstate counties and retail pharmacies also have substantial supply, the state should ask the federal government to redirect those doses as well.

As so many Long Islanders scramble for doses, vaccine hesitancy is still deeply embedded in pockets across the region and the state, and that might explain some of the vast availability tranches. To help civic leaders understand where better communication and outreach is needed, the state should make public its vaccination rates by ZIP code. Even after eligibility expands to all, those targeted efforts will have to continue.

As the infection rate starts to tick up again, the race to get shots into arms must outpace the pandemic and its variants. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said we're at the corner, but haven't turned it yet. The state must be ready for the sprint to the finish line.

— The editorial board