ALBANY —With the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program facing criticism, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday blamed the rocky rollout of his administration’s inoculation initiative on the federal government.
The governor acknowledged the state is unable to keep pace with the demand for the vaccine. He cited an abrupt change in federal guidance over the past week that urged states to let people 65 and older be made eligible for the vaccinations
“What they did was like opening the floodgates of eligibility — and you have a rush of 7 million people,” Cuomo said, acknowledging the surge in demand for the vaccine when the eligibility age for the initial dose fell from 75 to 65. That moved added nearly 2 million people to New York’s eligibility pool for the shots.
With demand outpacing the vaccine supply, Cuomo said the federal government has been sending a total of 300,000 Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses to the state for the past several weeks but will decrease that next week to just 250,000 doses.
“All of this volume, and it has to go through the point of a needle, literally and figuratively,” he said.
To vaccinate 7 million people with a supply of doses limited to 300,000 per week, Cuomo estimated it would take six months.
In addition to using several SUNY campuses as vaccination sites, New York’s immunization effort has enlisted more than 1,200 pharmacies, 194 hospitals, 2,500 private physician networks and dozens of local county health departments.
But several lawmakers argue the state vaccine launch should have been mapped out months ago. They said Cuomo administration has been combing around in recent days for new sites to add to the menu of locations hosting vaccinations.
“The time for the governor to have developed this plan was last July and August, when our infection numbers were down and stable,” said state Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Bay Shore. “This should have been like a military operation so that the day the vaccines arrived they knew exactly where they were going and who was going to get them. From what I can see, they haven’t done much planning at all.”
State websites carrying vaccine guidance urge the public to remain patient and to refrain from going to vaccination centers or pharmacies without an appointment.
The state has dedicated a telephone helpline to field questions about the vaccination process. The number can be reached at 1-833-697-4829, though this week calls are answered with a recording referring callers to a web link: ny.gov/vaccine
Three Hudson Valley lawmakers in a statement Friday called for New York’s vaccination appointment process to be made “transparent.”
“It is unacceptable that seniors must spend hours of their day calling around to different locations only to hear busy signals, receive conflicting information or to hear all appointments are booked,” Sen. Elijah Relchlin-Melnick, D-Nyack, and Assemblymen Ken Zebrowski, D-New City, and Mike Lawler, R-Pearl River, said in a joint statement.
Hit with another surge of internet visits, the state’s website for booking vaccinations crashed Friday.
More than 20,000 people were disappointed this week after they booked vaccinations through a state portal at one of several SUNY campuses, only to have them voided when state officials declared those appointments invalid.
An investigation is now underway by the state inspector generals’ office into how a web link for the appointments was shared prematurely, triggering a mad scramble for appointments.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, urged the Cuomo administration to bring representatives of local governments into the vaccine planning loop.
The state, according to Cuomo, has used 74% of the vaccine doses it has received. State data shows the region that has used the highest percentage of the doses allocated to it thus far is the North Country, with 94% of its first dosages having been injected into arms. Mohawk Valley has used 86% of its supply while Western New York went through 86% of its first dose allotment. The region with the lowest usage rate is New York City, with a performance rate of 60%.