Cuomo Widens Eligibility After Vaccine Goes Unused or Is Even Thrown Out

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Under increasing pressure to relieve a backlog of hundreds of thousands of unused coronavirus vaccine doses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday expanded the eligibility groups to include three million more people, including those 75 and older.

In the weeks since vaccinations began in mid-December, stories of doses sitting in freezers for weeks or being discarded have emerged, offering a glimpse of what public health experts have characterized as a troubled rollout in New York.

Mr. Cuomo had stuck to rigid guidelines that prioritized health care workers, and residents and staff of nursing homes and group homes. But on Friday, after repeated criticism from Mayor Bill de Blasio and local officials around the state, the governor announced that this new group — which also includes many essential workers — could begin scheduling vaccinations as soon as Monday, one month after New York City received its first doses.

Under these guidelines, health care workers would still have priority in any reservation system, according to Mr. Cuomo.

In an afternoon news conference in Albany, Mr. Cuomo cautioned that the expansion would be slow-going and present logistical challenges. “This is a very large group of people: It can’t be just show up at the pharmacy,” the governor said.

He estimated that it could take into April to finish vaccinations for the two groups, which total about five million New Yorkers.

Mr. Cuomo was following the lead of governors around the country who recently relaxed protocols because of criticism over the pace of inoculations and growing demand. For their part, federal officials have asked states to expand eligibility.

In New York City and elsewhere, the mass vaccination campaign is off to a dispiriting start, with public health experts voicing concerns about how few people have been vaccinated so far, even as coronavirus cases are soaring and a more contagious variant of the virus has been detected in the state.

The slow pace has touched off new tensions between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio. The two men, both Democrats with a history of feuding, have frequently clashed over the response to the pandemic.

This week, the mayor pleaded for Mr. Cuomo to expand the eligibility groups, saying that the narrow eligibility requirements were making it difficult to administer doses on the scale that was needed. As of early Friday, only 167,949 of 489,325 doses had been administered in New York City — about 34 percent, which was lower than the rate across New York State, which was about 50 percent.

“New York City has heard enough,” the mayor said on Twitter after Mr. Cuomo announced the expansion. “We will begin administering shots to City Workers and the elderly in 1B starting on Monday,” he added, referring to Phase 1b, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s second round of vaccinations.

Mr. de Blasio’s press secretary, Bill Neidhardt, then highlighted reporting in The New York Times on Friday morning that detailed the challenges facing clinics that had been unable to give out doses because of the strict rules — or even had to throw some out.

“This is so enraging,” he wrote. “Utterly speechless.”

Among the clinics were the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in Manhattan, where the chief medical officer, Dr. Peter Meacher, had expected to receive just a small supply of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine to inoculate employees at the network of clinics he oversees.

Instead, 600 doses arrived late last month, far more than he needed to administer a first dose to his staff.

For two weeks, more than half of the supply sat in freezers. At another clinic in the city, small numbers of unused doses were even thrown out.



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