At a Monday press conference, New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to fine hospitals up to $100,000 if they do not speed up coronavirus vaccinations.
Cuomo also said the state’s hospitals will be fined if they haven’t used their full allocations by the end of this week, or if they vaccinate people out of order from state priority guidelines. This puts providers in a bureaucratic conundrum, fail to use all of your COVID-19 vaccines within seven days will result in $100,000 fine. Vaccinate someone out of the state-designated order and receive a $1 million fine.
"I don’t want the vaccine in a fridge or a freezer, I want it in somebody’s arm," Cuomo said. "If you’re not performing this function, it does raise questions about the operating efficiency of the hospital."
Cuomo made the threat in an effort to speed up what has been an abysmally slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, and hours before announcing the state’s first case of a new, more contagious variant of the virus.
New York hospitals have been receiving supplies of vaccines over the past three weeks, but Cuomo said that as of Monday, hospitals had only administered 46 percent of their allocated vaccines. According to Cuomo, that amounts to roughly 300,000 out of 650,000 allocated doses.
Last week, New York received 259,000 more vaccine doses, with 139,400 from Pfizer and about 119,000 of Moderna, in addition to 636,200 doses the state had as of before Christmas.
Approximately 2.1 million New Yorkers are now eligible for vaccination under the state’s priority list, which was expanded this week to include all health care staff, including office staff who come into contact with the public.
While trying to deflect from attacks against himself for the slow rollout, Cuomo criticized by name out some of the slowest institutions at distributing the vaccine, citing several hospitals in the state that have administered fewer than 30 percent of their allocated doses. That’s compared to 99 percent of allocated vaccines administered at New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System and 62 percent at Northwell Health, the largest hospital system in New York.
Cuomo also called out New York City Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City hospitals, who only have a vaccination rate of 31 percent of the city's more than nine million residents and threatened to no longer allow slower hospitals to distribute the vaccine.
Barely over 110,000 people have been vaccinated in the city since it became available. De Blasio initially said 1 million people would be vaccinated in January when he first announced his million-vaccination goal last week.
During his own press conference on Monday, de Blasio offered a much more modest projection, saying the goal was 1 million doses, not 1 million people vaccinated.
In response to the governor's attacks, City Hall spokeswoman Avery Cohen told the New York Post, "threatening to 'revoke' the 'privilege' of vaccination from the City’s public hospital system is punitive and unnecessary."
The state's distribution plan mandated that many people received the vaccine before the elderly, including teachers, grocery store workers, transit employees, those who uphold "critical infrastructure."
Originally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended to every state that they should classify ethnic minorities as critical and vulnerable groups in their vaccine distribution plans before public pressure changed the policy to favor the elderly and those at risk.
In New York, most individuals over 65 were not eligible to receive the vaccine until recently, when the state graduated to Phase Three of its plan, which partially explains the slow distribution.
By contrast, Washington, DC’s Department of Health is reportedly encouraging health care providers to vaccinate any willing recipient, if their doses are close to expiring.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can last for several months when frozen, but must be thawed before use. Once they are defrosted, they have a very limited shelf life and if they are not used they have to be disposed of.
Israel, with a population of over nine million, one million more people than the Big Apple, who are spread out over a country the size of new Jersey, has vaccinated more than 12 percent of its population with the first dose, and has inoculated so many that they are running out of vaccines. The country allows the younger population to receive the extra vaccines, which has resulted in more than 100,000 Israelis between the ages of 20 and 40 having been vaccinated.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in New York have doubled since early December to 8,251 as of Sunday. The state is averaging 13,687 daily new cases over the past seven days, up 27 percent from a week ago.
Of the nearly 900,000 vaccinations sent to New York, only 275,000 people have received the first dose.