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New York to receive 170,000 vaccine doses

Tom Magnarelli
COVID-19 testing at the Oncenter in Syracuse.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that New York will receive 170,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 15, and front-line health care workers and nursing home residents will be among the first to receive it.

The federal government is distributing the vaccines based on a state’s population. Cuomo said an estimated 40,000 more doses of Moderna’s vaccine are expected by the end of the month. He said the top priorities will be the elderly people living in nursing homes and staff at the residences, and front-line health care workers in emergency rooms, intensive care units or working directly with COVID-19 patients. 

“By the end of December, the administration suggests that there will be enough to vaccinate 20 million people with two dosages,” Cuomo said. “That means 6% of Americans. That gives you an idea of where we’re going to be coming into January.”

Cuomo said things won’t be back to normal until 75% to 85% of Americans get the vaccine, and it will be months before that occurs. He said the vaccination program will be the largest governmental operation since World War Two. But he said Congress has yet to provide enough funding for the project.

“This state, you could estimate, to do a real outreach education campaign, a billion dollars,” the governor said. “We just don’t have it.”

The state already has a $14 billion deficit, much of it due to pandemic-related expenses.

Cuomo said while he agrees with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations that the essential health care workers and nursing home residents and staff get the vaccine first, he still wants a New York state-based panel to review the FDA’s vaccine approval process. Polls show as many as half of Americans have some reservations about getting the vaccine. Cuomo said the New York panel will help reduce public skepticism.

“To help build confidence and to counter that existing cynicism,” Cuomo said. 

The news about the vaccines comes as the number of New Yorkers in the hospital with coronavirus is climbing at what the governor said is an “alarming” rate. Hospitalizations in western New York, which has the highest positivity rate, are over 250% above the average rate.

Cuomo said earlier in the week that he’ll now include hospital capacity as a factor when deciding whether to designate a region a microcluster hot zone and impose restrictions on businesses and religious and personal gatherings.

The statewide positivity rate for the virus on Tuesday was 4.63%, and 69 New Yorkers died of the disease.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.