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Cuomo threatens to cut off hospitals from vaccination program if they don't act faster

Office of the Governor
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker (l) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at their COVID-19 briefing.

In New York state, like in most of the nation, the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is behind schedule and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to withhold new doses from hospitals that do not speed things up.

About 300,000 vaccines have been administered in New York to frontline health care workers and some nursing home residents and staff, but that’s less than half of the vaccines that began shipping to the state three weeks ago.

Cuomo, expressing what he called “constructive impatience,” said that’s not good enough.

“I want to get needles in the arms,” said Cuomo, “and I want to get that done as quickly as possible.”

Cuomo blames the federal government for the slow rollout in nursing homes, where just half of residents and a third of staff have received the first doses of the vaccines since they were made available around Dec. 21.

New York state joined a federal plan that contracted with CVS and Walgreens to give out the vaccines. But the governor said the state will now send its own personnel into the homes to speed up the process, or let the nursing homes who have qualified staff do the vaccinations themselves. He hopes that 85% of residents can be vaccinated by the end of the week. 

Hospitals are responsible for the initial round of vaccines for essential health care workers, but the success rate has been uneven. Some hospitals, like New York Presbyterian health care system, and smaller ones, including Adirondack Medical Center and Oswego Hospital, have already used up almost all of their vaccines.

New York City’s public hospital system has used just 31% of its allotted vaccine doses and a number of larger hospital groups, including Northwell Health downstate and Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, have given out 62% of their allotments.

Cuomo said the underperforming hospitals will face sanctions, including a fine of up to $100,000 if they don’t use up all of the vaccine they have in store by the end of the week. They can also be disqualified for any future distribution of the vaccine.

“If your hospital doesn’t have the capacity, then just say that,” Cuomo said. “Which is fine and then we’ll give it to a different hospital.” 

The state’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, has sent a letter outlining the new rules. He said hospitals must act with a “sense of urgency” to save lives.  

Cuomo last month said the major hospital in each region of the state would be responsible for distributing vaccines to the public once they become available. But he said based on the hospitals’ uneven performance so far, he’s rethinking that plan.

He said the state will set up vaccination distribution sites in convention centers and field hospitals, as well as drive-through sites.

Even as the vaccinations lag, Cuomo announced that more people will be eligible for doses; all healthcare workers now qualify to receive the vaccine.

The governor spoke on a day when the positivity rate for the virus statewide was at 8.3%, and the number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 has grown to over 8,000, the highest number since early May. There were 170 deaths from the disease on Sunday, which Cuomo says is a “terrible way to start the new year.”

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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