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Under pressure, Cuomo to widen vaccine eligibility

Under pressure, Cuomo to widen vaccine eligibility
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Facing mounting criticism, New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Broadway to fully reopen in September Mets, Yankees to open vaccination sites to fans before games MORE (D) on Friday said the state will expand COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to a wider range of the public, including those over the age of 75 and first responders.

Cuomo has been under fire for rigidly adhering to prioritizing health workers and nursing homes, despite numerous instances of vaccine doses sitting unused in freezers or even being thrown out.  

Even with a limited supply of vaccines from the federal government, New York's vaccination rollout has been slow. Cuomo blamed hospitals, threatening to fine them and remove doses if they didn't vaccinate health workers fast enough.

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Beginning Monday, Cuomo now says anyone in phase "1B" will be allowed to make an appointment to be vaccinated.

He said providers need to continue to prioritize health workers first, so supply will be limited, but teachers, first responders, transportation workers and people aged 75 and older will be eligible.

Cuomo said people will be able to make appointments at thousands of new vaccination sites, including pharmacies, physician networks and community health centers. He said 500 pharmacies will start accepting reservations next week. 

However, he warned it could be weeks before people who make appointments will actually be able to get vaccinated.

"At this rate, it will take us 14 weeks to do 1A and 1B. Fourteen weeks is an eternity of time,” Cuomo said, because there are 3.2 million people that will be newly eligible. “Don’t be surprised if that appointment is three months from now.”

While other governors expanded eligibility groups and praised hospitals and pharmacists for using extra doses, Cuomo stayed firm, insisting that providers were not allowed to deviate from the state's plan.  

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At the same time, hospitals face a $100,000 fine and risk not receiving further coronavirus vaccine shipments if they don’t administer doses within a week of getting them.

As recently as Thursday, Cuomo indicted the policy would not change, because there was not enough supply for lower priority groups. He also said that opening up eligibility to people in group 1B would essentially eliminate the priority for health workers and push them to the back of the line. 

Cuomo said the aim was to get to 70 percent to 80 percent of workers vaccinated. So far, only 23 percent have been. 

In New York City, close to 30 percent of health workers have declined a chance to be vaccinated, but hospitals have not been allowed to give the shots to others who may want it, like people over the age of 75, first responders, or transit workers.

New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNew York area will lift capacity restrictions May 19 NYC 24-hour subway service resumes May 17 Schumer demands restoration of 24-hour New York subway service MORE (D) has been the governor's most vocal critic in calling for widened eligibility. He said the city has thousands of slots available to vaccinate New Yorkers, but can't use them because of Cuomo's restrictions.