COVID vaccines open to NY EMTs, coroners, medical examiners

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives an update about the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state in the state Capitol in Albany on Monday. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

ALBANY — Officials expanded New York’s COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to EMTs, medical examiners, coroners, funeral home staff and other congregate facility employees Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, as inoculations started in nursing homes across the state.

More than 38,000 New Yorkers have received their first immunization of two required injections against the novel coronavirus — more than any other state in the nation.

The state first prioritized vaccinating high-risk health care workers and expanded the category Monday to include federally qualified health center workers, EMTs, coroners, medical examiners, funeral home workers and congregate care workers and residents.

“This week, we increase the priority populations that the hospitals will be allowed to administer,” Cuomo said Monday afternoon during a coronavirus briefing in the state Capitol.

The state received 170,000 dosages from Manhattan drugmaker Pfizer and 346,200 doses this week of Moderna’s vaccine, which the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and state Clinical Advisory Task Force each approved Thursday.

Pfizer is expected to send 120,000 more dosages to the state in the coming days, bringing the total to 636,200 doses by the end of the week.

“It’s a foot race between increasing vaccines and slowing the spread,” Cuomo said. “That’s all this is.”

State nursing home residents started receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at adult-care facilities across New York on Monday morning.

Medical staff from CVS, Walgreens and other select pharmacies will vaccinate residents and staff in the state’s 618 nursing homes as part of the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program.

The initiative is expected to take six weeks and includes three clinical days at each facility.

All residents and a portion of the staff receive their first injection over the first two weeks. That group of patients will receive their second shot in the second two weeks, with the remaining staff receiving their second dose in the last two weeks of the program.

CVS will administer COVID vaccines at 271 New York nursing homes. Walgreens will oversee vaccinations at 253 adult-care centers and other pharmacies will complete the task in 94 other facilities.

Sixty-one nursing homes are enrolled in the program in the Finger Lakes, with 44 long-term facilities participating in the Capital Region and 18 nursing homes in the North Country.

“It’s basically proportionate to where the nursing homes are,” said Cuomo, who showcased photos of several nursing home residents getting vaccinated.

One photo featured 101-year-old Freda Bernhardt receiving one of the first nursing home vaccinations in Rochester on Monday morning.

COVID ward and emergency room health care professionals, pharmacy workers and other high-risk medical personnel were prioritized in the first class of vaccinations, totaling about 2 million people across the state.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released guidance over the weekend about vaccinating people aged 75 and older and patients with comorbidities, or people with two or more underlying medical conditions, said Budget Director Rob Mujica, a leading official in the state’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Residents cannot get on a waiting list to receive the immunization.

“When we have the prioritization for the next category, we’ll communicate that to the public and have for the public to have access,” Mujica said Monday.

The state follows federal guidance to set vaccine prioritization.

For the state’s complete COVID-19 vaccine information and availability, visit covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.

U.S. states receive vaccine shipments from the federal government. The state allocates vials to a medical center serving as the vaccine coordinating hub in each region by the number of priority medical staff, and administers injections to eligible residents.

The state follows federal guidelines to determine which New Yorkers are eligible to receive the vaccine first.

“There is no politics in the vaccination process — there is no politician in the state of New York who is in control of the vaccination process,” Cuomo said. “Only the state government is involved and our only job is to distribute the vaccine to the regional hub to get it there and make sure they’re following the guidelines. ...in this time of COVID where we’ve seen gross injustices, politics has nothing to do with it.”

The Finger Lakes region received 42,200 doses of the state’s initial COVID vaccine shipments, with 45,650 in Western New York, 25,850 delivered to the Capitol Region and 16,550 sent to the North Country.

New York City received 267,250 dosages of the vaccine, and 86,150 went to Long Island facilities.

The state has administered more COVID-19 vaccines than any other state in the nation. Upward of 18,000 people in Texas have received their first injection, with more than 12,000 people vaccinated in Colorado, according to the governor’s office.

Congressmen and women and top federal officials started receiving COVID-19 vaccines last week, including Vice President Mike Pence.

U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, received a vaccination Friday.

Gov. Cuomo said Monday he will receive a vaccine with essential workers in the general public. Cuomo, 63, does not have an underlying illness and is not considered high-risk.

“I’m in no special group,” Cuomo said. “...I have a lot of people who just say to me ‘If it’s so safe, why didn’t you take it?’, which is such a great New York attitude. I’m willing to take it. The flip side is, I don’t want anyone saying you took the vaccine and it should have gone to an essential worker.

“With New Yorkers, you can’t make anyone happy. I would take it today, but I don’t want that flip side.”

The governor plans to publicly receive his COVID-19 vaccine during a press briefing.

Cuomo spoke out against celebrities, wealthy or affluent Americans getting preferential COVID-19 testing.

“It undermines an entire sense of democracy,” he said.

The state established a New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task force to come up with an operational plan to get the immunization into Black, Latino and poor communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

Blacks died at nearly twice the rate, and Latinos 1.5 times more, from COVID-19 than white Americans.

“How do we get it into public housing authorities, how do we run a public education campaign saying ‘This is safe’?” Cuomo mused. “Left to the markets, you will see, once again, Black, Latino and poor communities left behind. We are doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen, and I want the state to be a model for an equitable vaccine.”

State Secretary Rossana Rosado, state Attorney General Letitia James, National Urban League President and CEO Mark Moriai and Healthfirst Inc. President and CEO Pat Wang chair the 24-member task force.

“The key for me in this vaccination program is ensuring the vulnerable communities are not left behind,” Cuomo said. “They were left behind during COVID.”

Officials are assembling shipping containers of vaccination kits to be sent throughout the state to vaccinate minority and low-income communities in “health care deserts” or areas underserved by existing health care infrastructure.

The kits will include office supplies, IT and communications equipment, cleaning supplies, PPE, traffic control equipment, vials, syringes, room dividers, privacy curtains and more.

Each kit also includes the floor plan for how to set up the temporary vaccination center, which must be about 10,000 square feet.

“In one shipping container, it can be everything that that community needs ...Put it right on the back of a truck,” Cuomo said. “My goal is this state should do a better job than any other state.”

COVID-19 vaccines are free for all New Yorkers when they become eligible to receive the immunization.

Most of the state’s new COVID-19 infections hail from small, private gatherings, or what Cuomo has named “living room spread” — especially over the holiday season.

About 75% of new cases are traced back to small gatherings in private residences.

Scientists expect coronavirus infections to increase through at least mid-January because of the holiday season.

The state could avoid a surge following the 37-day holiday period after Thanksgiving, Cuomo said.

“This is a long stretch, but if we stay smart, a spike is not inevitable,” he said. “We have to make sure we don’t have a spike out of the holiday season. We stay under control, we don’t have a big spike in mid-January, it’s just a foot race: Us versus the vaccine, and we’re going to get that vaccine. We’re already leading the nation.

“We’re going to get that vaccine out if I have to drive it all across the state.”

The state Health Department issued a quarantine waiver for Santa Claus to be exempt from New York’s mandated 14-day isolation for visitors, as long as Kris Kringle wears a face mask in the state boundaries once out of his sleigh.

“It would be impracticable for him to be in in this state and still get all his gifts delivered on time,” Cuomo said with a smile. “The Department of Health was flexible and have granted the quarantine waiver. Santa is required to wear a mask this year. I think you’ll still be able to recognize him. He does have a fairly distinct outfit that he wears. He’ll be able to do his job.”

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