New York will open Covid vaccinations to everybody aged 65 and over: Governor Cuomo

A person wearing a protective mask stands in front of a vaccination center for Covid-19 in Bathgate Industrial Park in the Bronx, New York on Monday, January 11, 2021.

David Delgado | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York State will accept new federal guidelines to open the approval of Covid vaccines to anyone over the age of 65 as well as younger people with compromised immune systems, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

The governor accepted the new guidelines, which Cuomo said came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also criticized the move. He said demand will quickly outstrip supply. The state had previously given priority to health workers and recently extended the eligibility to those aged 75 and over.

Cuomo said expanding it further to 65 and older would open the eligibility to about 7 million people, but the state is only receiving about 300,000 doses a week.

“We will accept the federal guidelines,” Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters. “I don’t want New Yorkers to believe that we are not doing everything we can to qualify them for the vaccine because I want to keep the people of New York as calm as we can keep people in these anxious times.”

Cuomo said the state is still facing a “drop, drop, drop from the faucet of federal dosage availability” that is inhibiting the state’s ability to vaccinate people. The federal government has withheld more than half of all available vaccine doses to ensure enough second booster vaccinations are needed to achieve maximum immunity.

But the Trump administration will announce Tuesday that the government will begin distributing these doses to states, a senior government official told CNBC.

Cuomo noted that the new guidelines could cause more headaches with the launch of the vaccine. He said there was no under-prioritization for people over the age of 90 with, for example, health complications. He added that if the current dose allocation rate continues, it will take about six months for everyone over 65, as well as the other eligible groups such as health care workers, to be vaccinated.

“So today you’re telling people, ‘You’re eligible,’ but you’re also telling people, ‘We don’t have enough doses to reach you for the next six months,'” said Cuomo. “Is that helpful? I think not. I think it creates more frustration and more fear.”

Cuomo urged President-elect Joe Biden to review the policy and consider revising it when he takes office next week.

“I think it will create national frustration and suggest that the government is unable,” said Cuomo. “And the last thing we need now is people who are frustrated or who lose faith in government competence.”

The original guidelines for federal prioritization were set last month by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield accepted his recommendation that priority be given to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Then states should move on to those 75 and over and frontline workers, the committee said.

But the new federal guidelines seem to throw the original recommendations out the door. Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University who liaises with the advisory committee, said in an interview with CNBC that the demand for vaccines will now significantly outstrip supply.

He added that while this is a new federal guideline, each country still sets its own vaccination schedule. He said there had been various problems with the launch in different parts of the country. Some parts of the country face surprisingly high levels of vaccine reluctance, resulting in higher supply than demand, while others quickly opened up vaccine eligibility and exceeded supply.

“I think this is a symptom of inadequate federal alignment,” said Schaffner.

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