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Cuomo says his vaccine plan is preliminary, leaves lots of blanks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his vaccination plan for New York, released over the weekend, is preliminary and much more information is needed to finalize the distribution of the vaccine to New Yorkers when it becomes available.

Cuomo said his plan, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention required all states to submit, is just a first draft of what could happen when the vaccine is finalized. He hopes that will occur over the winter. 

Cuomo said that more than seven months into the pandemic, New York has conducted 12 million coronavirus tests. But it’s possible that a vaccine could require two doses per person, and it’s estimated that about 20 million New Yorkers will want it. That’s a total of 40 million injections in what will hopefully be a very short amount of time.

“I believe this is going to be the hardest operational challenge that we’ve faced since COVID began,” Cuomo said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

According to the governor’s plan, the first phase would vaccinate essential health care workers and people at high risk for complication s from the disease, including nursing home residents and staff, and health care workers in patient care settings.  

Phase Two includes teachers, first responders and frontline workers -- including grocery store clerks -- as well as New Yorkers with existing health conditions that leave them at high risk for complications from the disease. 

The third phase would be everyone else over 65, and the fourth would be all remaining essential workers. Finally, in phase five, the rest of the population would be able to get the vaccine.  

Priority in each phase would be given to those living in areas where the infection rate is highest. 

The governor continues to be critical of President Donald Trump and his administration. He said they have mishandled the pandemic so far, including organizing testing and providing personal protective equipment. He also said they are unprepared for distributing the vaccine. 

Cuomo, who is head of the National Governors Association, compiled a list of 36 questions from the states’ governors. They want details, including whether the vaccine will be allocated to states by the number of cases, a state’s population or other data. 

Also unanswered, said Cuomo, is how the vaccine will be funded, and whether states will be reimbursed for costs.  

Cuomo said he and some of the other governors worry that the CDC’s plan will not offer guidance beyond delivering dosages to the states. 

“It’s basically going to come down to ‘We’re going to deliver it to the states,’ and then tell them, ‘You need refrigeration equipment to keep it at minus 80 degrees,’ ” Cuomo said. “And then how do the states do it? It’s testing redux.”

A White House official, in a letter released last week, said that plans are already underway for implementation of the vaccine nationwide. 

Douglas Hoelscher, assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs, said Cuomo would know more about those plans if he had attended the past 17 of the 39 briefings held for the governors. He said recent conferences focused on details of vaccine distribution and administration. 

Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi responded in a statement that the governor believes the briefings are “a total waste of time.”  

“We learned early on that the White House calls were a total waste of time and nothing more than political propaganda, using elected officials as props to heap praise on the president and deny the virus' existence,” Azzopardi said.  

Azzopardi said the governors need a “substantive operational discussion on policy and programming." 

Cuomo said New York will do whatever it needs to do to administer the virus, but he needs to know what that is.  

The governor also said that the 20 designated virus hot zones in New York have shown some improvement, and that by Wednesday, he may be able to announce an easement on the lockdowns in those area.

“And I do anticipate changes to those zones,” he said.

Cuomo said the state has more tools to accurately pinpoint the location of new COVID-19 cases than when the pandemic began, and he said he hopes that focusing on the virus clusters and taking prompt actions to contain the disease can help New York avoid any larger economic shutdowns this fall.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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