ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to comply with the White House’s request for states to release a patient identification number for every person who receives a coronavirus vaccine, pending the approval of a safe immunization, he said, as the federal government’s appeal for personal data could target undocumented immigrants.
The Trump administration sent a data-sharing agreement form to all 50 states Monday requesting they share the name, address, birthdate, ethnicity, sex and an identification number for each patient who receives a COVID-19 vaccine. A federal ID number is traditionally a person’s driver’s license, passport or Social Security number.
The data-use agreement specifies the information will be used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health and Human Services department “and other federal partners.” The agreement does not specify which federal partners.
“Why would you possibly need a person’s driver’s license number or Social Security number or passport number before you receive a vaccine? Why?” Gov. Cuomo said during a telephoned COVID-19 briefing with reporters Monday afternoon. “There is no legitimate health reason.
“Why they need any patient data, I have no idea. Health information is normally private.”
The federal government is requesting the agreement from states in order for states to be eligible to receive future vaccine shipments. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved a COVID-19 vaccine to date.
Cuomo compared the issue to a federal battle over the state’s Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.
New York sued the Department of Homeland Security after the Trump administration halted the federal Trusted Traveler Program in New York on Feb. 5 when state officials refused to share personal information of undocumented immigrants who got a license, resulting in the department’s temporary program suspension.
“This is just another example of them trying to extort the state of New York to get information that they can use at the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to deport people,” Cuomo said. “I will not do it. I wouldn’t do it when they extorted me on the Trusted Traveler Program. I won’t do it now.”
The Trump administration has relentlessly pursued the nation’s undocumented residents since taking office, the governor said.
“When we did the driver’s license for undocumented [people], they extorted the state — they broke the law to try to get the undocumented driver’s licenses,” Cuomo said. “...It was done by the Department of Homeland Security and their ICE thugs... [Acting Secretary] Chad Wolf and [Acting Deputy] Ken Cuccinelli who are just thugs and criminals.”
The incident remains under investigation by the Homeland Security inspector general.
Cuomo submitted a letter Monday to Trump, CDC Director Robert Ray Redfield Jr. and HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking why the federal government is requesting personal patient information to administer a vaccine program, what federal partners the information will be shared with and if they will ensure the information will not be used for immigration purposes.
“How do you protect the privacy of it, or are you coming up with a whole new ID system for the people of this country?” Cuomo added. “Will you say it won’t be used for immigration, or is this just another back-handed way to extort the state?”
The White House Coronavirus Task Force announced plans late last week to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to millions of Americans when it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with a private-public partnership with private-sector pharmacies such as CVS or Walgreens.
Vaccines will also be distributed at local hospitals and physician offices.
A COVID-19 vaccine — likely to be administered by injection — needs to be refrigerated at negative 80 degrees Celsius, or negative 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Each patient is expected to need two dosages by the same manufacturer a few weeks apart.
Private-sector pharmacies will be incapable of handling or expediting the inoculation process, Cuomo said, as those companies have only helped the nation conduct more than 120 million COVID-19 tests in nearly eight months, and would need to administer 660 million COVID-19 immunizations to about 330 million Americans.
“It’s math,” the governor said. “If it took that infrastructure eight months to do 120 million COVID tests, how long does it take that infrastructure to do 660 million vaccines?
“I believe not providing state government with funds to supplement the provider network is discriminatory and I believe it’s illegal.”
Administering a coronavirus vaccine to millions of Americans will be government’s most rigorous and labor-intensive task of the pandemic to date, Cuomo said — more than diagnostic testing, hospital management or contact tracing.
The coronavirus has particularly hit minority and poor communities, which have higher mortality rates from the disease. The federal government’s vaccination plan will discriminate against communities with the highest need, as big-box private pharmacies exist in greater numbers outside poor and black or brown neighborhoods.
“If you had to do any prioritization, give the vaccines to the communities with the highest infection rates,” Cuomo said. “That would be Black and brown communities ... Give to essential workers. That would be the Black and brown communities. This infrastructure doesn’t exist to the extent necessary.”
The military will use commercial shipping companies including FedEx to ship the vaccines to states.
Federal officials have not announced plans to give states funding for successful vaccine administration or that they will allow distribution organized by state personnel.
The state reported 1.7% new COVID-19 infections Monday, including microcluster zones in Orange, Rockland, Broome, Steuben, Chemung and Kings counties. New York reported a 1.4% coronavirus infection rate without target hot spots.
Area Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods also continue to battle spiking coronavirus cases. The positivity rate in state microclusters was 3.5% Monday — about half the rate of new infections two weeks prior.
Fourteen New Yorkers died from COVID-19 Sunday, slightly down from 17 fatalities Saturday.
Hospitalizations continued a slow increase to 1,151 patients Monday, up 26 people from the day before.
New York holds the nation’s third-lowest COVID-19 infection rate, behind Maine and Vermont, as infections soar nationwide, including in neighboring New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The three states may tighten restrictions to reduce community spread of the disease with the approaching holiday season.
“All I can do is warn New Yorkers and ask them to remember what worked for us and what worked for us is discipline and to be smart,” Cuomo said. “We have to keep it up because these are dangerous, dangerous times.”