Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to open vaccination distribution to police officers, firefighters, other essential workers and those over the age of 75, in what is called tier "1b," will make sure every dose is used. And it opens the door to more people who are waiting for the vaccines. An anxious public needs more predictability on when they can get the lifesaving protection.
Now, it’s up to the state to provide additional flexibility and tools to county officials who know what their communities need and are nimble enough to shift vaccine doses or change distribution locations as necessary. While state guidelines and oversight are necessary, the state must trust local officials to take the lead in managing the delivery to most residents. Give them the tools to be resourceful and inventive.
Also key to beating back the virus is Cuomo’s suggestion that hospitals make their vaccine distribution to health care workers available around the clock. County officials should encourage other distribution facilities to similarly offer a range of overnight and weekend hours, especially now that the pool of eligible individuals is widening. Right now, county officials say, the state system has limits on how many appointments per hour can be booked. Those restrictions should be lifted.
While the pool of eligible recipients is widening, it’s important to remember that we’re far from done with vaccinating the health care workers and others who find themselves in the "1a" category. According to the state, 479,000 of the 2.1 million people in that category have been vaccinated. That needs to increase exponentially, so the state’s decision to prioritize them is important. Vaccinating those who are able to vaccinate others will help when staffing increases are necessary.
As the effort ramps up, the state must begin releasing data on the vaccination program. We’re still waiting for the dashboard state officials have promised — and that’s unacceptable. Detailed data exists for each hospital and nursing home on how many staff members and residents have been vaccinated. As much of that as possible should be made public, while protecting individual privacy.
There are also reports that nursing home workers have been especially reluctant to take the vaccine. Families must know whether there are high refusal rates at their loved one’s residence. The state has an obligation to release that data and update it regularly.
There’s a long way to go. Supply issues remain critical, and none of the state or local efforts will make enough of a difference if the state continues to get only 300,000 doses per week. That’s why President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to release all vaccine doses now, including those currently being held back for the later round of second doses, makes sense, as it should help alleviate the supply strain. Still, federal officials will have to make sure the production flow continues so that everyone who gets the first dose can get the second.
More shots are coming. New York must be ready to deliver them rapidly.
— The editorial board