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Cuomo says New York will independently review COVID-19 vaccine


Saying he does not trust the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday New York will conduct its own review of any COVID-19 vaccines that are deemed to be ready for use.

Cuomo said the state will set up a review committee, made up of scientific and health experts, to check that any coronavirus vaccine approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration is indeed safe to be injected into people. The governor said he's increasingly concerned over whether the approval process has “become politicized” by President Donald Trump, and whether approval of a vaccine might be rushed before it is fully vetted.

“Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion,” Cuomo said. “And I wouldn't recommend to New Yorkers based on the federal government's opinion.” 

This week the head of the FDA testified before Congress that a vaccine won't be approved until it meets "vigorous expectations" for safety and effectiveness, and that the FDA will not be influenced by political pressure. A careful review would likely put distribution off the virus off until well after Election Day.

Afterward, President Trump said the White House might not sign off on the new protocols, saying he believed the FDA's statements were a "political move."

Cuomo said he also has doubts that the federal government will be able to distribute a vaccine efficiently. Some forms now being developed require two separate shots of the vaccine to 19.5 million New Yorkers. 

"They are talking about 40 million doses being administered,” Cuomo said. "This is a massive undertaking."

He said he does not want to see a repeat of the dire situation last spring, where states had to compete with one another to buy ventilators and personal protective equipment, like gloves and masks.

Cuomo said the committee will decide who should be among the first to receive the vaccine, based on medical standards, and training for those who will administer the vaccine, as well as conduct a "massive public education campaign" to convince New Yorkers to get the shots.  

He said his goal is to conduct a “model vaccination program," and make New York the "first COVID- free state” in the nation. 

Cuomo also announced that the state is adding new data to a website tracking COVID-19 cases in every school district in the state.

In addition to reports from schools themselves on COVID-positive cases, the site will also include lab reports culled from the tens of thousands of tests conducted across New York each day.

Cuomo said the lab data will also act as a “check and a balance” against the schools' self-reporting on coronavirus cases. 

The website allows a search by school district and by zip code, and also provides the option to see reports from neighboring school districts to make comparisons.

Cuomo said so far, New York State remains an "anomaly," and has a lower rate of the virus than most other state and many nations, where the rate of transmission is spiking.

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.