NY approved to give ‘surprise’ additional Pfizer vaccines

State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa seated in the state Capitol during a coronavirus briefing Friday afternoon. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

A slowdown in vaccine shipments in some U.S. states is not expected to impact New York, and federal officials cleared the state to administer a surprise of additional dosages of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday after medical officials noted each vial contains more of the immunization than anticipated.

Earlier this month, state officials said Pfizer’s first shipment of 170,000 dosages contained five doses per vial.

Each vial holds at least six, or even seven, doses per container — between a 20% and 40% increase, or 36,000 and 68,000 more injections.

“It depends on how much each person would get,” Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said Friday during a coronavirus briefing in the state Capitol. “You can’t give an exact number on that — some may get a sixth, some may get a seventh.”

The FDA authorized the state to administer the additional doses, which are permissive.

“That is actually increasing the number of doses that we have,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “The supply of vaccines is bigger than we thought. It’s surprising news — a little bit of a mistake, but a mistake that turned out good.”

Health officials in Iowa, Michigan and several other states were alarmed Thursday to learn they were targeted to receive fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine next week than previously told to expect.

The same slowdowns are not anticipated to impact New York’s vaccine shipments.

“Our program is running as planned and we don’t anticipate any changes that will significantly impact our vaccination schedule,” Cuomo’s senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said in a statement Friday.

More than 19,000 New Yorkers have received Manhattan drugmaker Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine since the state administered one of the first immunizations in the nation Monday morning.

“New York has been through hell, but the finish line is in sight,” Cuomo said. “This is now a footrace between the vaccine and COVID,” Cuomo said. “The faster we vaccinate people, the quicker COVID comes down.”

Health experts expect it will take between six and nine months, or until summer or early fall 2021, to reach herd immunity, or vaccinating between 75% and 85% of the population.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration and state Clinical Advisory Task Force panel each approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday.

The state is slated to receive 346,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine starting next week.

The federal government sends vaccine shipments to states, which allocate the doses to designated coordinating hubs and 292 sites in each of New York’s 10 regions.

Of the initial expected, Albany Medical Center in the Capital Region will receive 29,950 doses combined of the first tranche of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine shipments, with 14,000 doses to Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in the North Country, 33,650 in the Finger Lakes to the University of Rochester Medical Center and 36,800 to Catholic Health System in Western New York.

“The vaccines will be distributed medically — not politically,” said Cuomo, adding high-risk medical workers remain at the front of the line — not politicians or the state’s wealthiest residents. “It’s all being done by medical facilities, so there will be no politics in the distribution.”

Greater New York Hospital Association will receive 215,600 doses for New York City, and Northwell Health will have 69,600 doses for Long Island.

Medical staff at Walgreens and CVS pharmacies will start to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in state nursing homes and congregate facilities starting Monday, said Financial Services Deputy Superintendent Gareth Rhodes, a leading official on the state’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Initial inoculations at 618 long-term adult-care facilities in the state are expected to be completed in two weeks.

“We expect that will move as quickly as possible,” Rhodes said.

Pharmacy staff will return three weeks after the initial injection to administer the required second shot to patients.

Essential workers and high-risk members of the public are expected to start to receive vaccinations in late January.

New Yorkers will not pay to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

To find out when and where to get a COVID-19 immunization, visit ny.gov/vaccine.

The state Health Department recently mandated hospitals add 25% additional bed capacity, or cancel elective surgeries and procedures if they threaten to run out of space.

Hospitals must factor out their patient intake rate several weeks out to prevent overwhelming a medical facility.

DOH health law requires hospitals to notify the state when a facility experiences a steady increase in patients to hit 85% of its maximum patient capacity in three weeks.

“So it gives the state one month notice, at least, and at that point, we would shut down the economy,” Cuomo said. “No hospital in the state has given that three-week notice, which means no hospital in the state believes they’re going to hit 85% by Jan. 8. That’s good news.”

Nonessential businesses are automatically closed in a geographic area determined by state Coronavirus Task Force members when a hospital reaches 90% capacity.

Additional statewide shutdowns depend on New Yorkers’ diligence to avoid private gatherings with more than 10 people, stay a socially distanced 6 feet from others and to wear face masks in public.

New Yorkers and officials at all levels continue to speculate about the potential for the state to mandate all nonessential businesses closed like the initial virus outbreak last spring.

“I would wager New York does not shut down because I believe in New Yorkers and I would never bet against New Yorkers, and this shutdown is in the hands of the New Yorkers,” Cuomo said, before placing both cupped hands in front of him.

“New Yorkers have the shutdown in their hands. Celebrate smart, healthy holidays, hospital management — we don’t shut down.”

A state shutdown is completely avoidable, Cuomo said, as closing nonessential business throughout New York has negative economic consequences.

“This has been a long year — the last thing anybody wants is a shutdown,” he said. “I’m working as hard as I can, and I believe we can stay open and we will stay open.

“...I do not believe we are destined to have a shutdown — there is not destiny here; destiny is what we make it,” the governor added. “The future is what we make it. A shutdown is totally avoidable. It will be determined by us and by what we do in the coming weeks.”

The state Coronavirus Task Force plans to avoid a shutdown by slowing the spread of the disease and managing hospital increases.

State hospitals have entered crisis management as they prepare for a surge of COVID-19 virus patients through at least the next month as cases are expected to increase after the holiday season.

Downstate hospitals have prepared and identified 31,000 hospital beds among different state health systems to work together and take overflow virus patients as needed to prevent overwhelming any facility.

Hospitals in Erie and Monroe counties have increased bed capacity and the Healthcare Association of New York State are coordinating plans with upstate hospitals.

State hospitals can handle the virus resurgence as residents start to become vaccinated, Cuomo said.

“We learned a lot in the spring,” the governor said, adding hospital systems are prepared to work together, regardless of private or public ownership.

“We had more time to get ready and they’ve done more preparation now. We’ve gone through this before, and I believe we can do it again.”

Northwell Health and the Greater New York Hospital Association will provide backup to small, independent health systems.

“They will be backed up by the larger systems so if they have a problem, the larger systems will help them with capacity,” Cuomo said.

Hospitalized virus patients in intensive care decreased Friday for the first time in weeks to 6,081, down 66 people, in hospitals statewide.

“Those are good signs, what does it mean?” the governor asked. “We’ll find out if it continues tomorrow.”

The Finger Lakes region has the highest number of New Yorkers hospitalized with the virus at 746 patients, or 0.06% of the region’s population. Central New York is a close second with 0.05% of the population in the hospital with 385 patients.

“The Finger Lakes is really much higher — the Finger Lakes has a problem, a significant problem,” Cuomo said.

The region also has the highest COVID-19 positivity rate at 8.31% new infections. The Mohawk Valley region’s comparable infection rate was 8.21% Friday.

New infections spiked to 6.5% in the Capital Region and 4.51% in the North Country, with elevated 6.9% in Central New York, 6.6% in Western New York and 6.17% in the Mid-Hudson region.

The regions are higher than New York City and Long Island at 4.14% and 6.1%, respectively.

“Finger Lakes is double the positivity of New York City — double the North Country,” Cuomo said. “It’s almost six times the Southern Tier. It’s not just a situation of the times, it’s particular to the Finger Lakes and that’s how you should treat it and react.”

Hospitalizations in Western New York, which includes the city of Buffalo in Erie County, continued to decrease to 474 people at 0.03% after having the state’s highest number of new coronavirus infections and deaths for several weeks.

Capital Region hospitalizations climbed to 331 patients or 0.03% of the population Friday, up from 203 people Wednesday.

The Mid-Hudson and North Country virus hospitalizations increased slightly, but have remained about flat this week, with 739 people in Mid-Hudson, up 17, at 0.03% and 63 people in the North Country, up six patients, or 0.02% of the population.

The state reported 120 New Yorkers died from the virus Friday — about flat for most of the week, but higher than fatalities last week, which largely fluctuated between 80 and 90 in a 24-hour period.

In the spring global experts cast doubt New Yorkers could reduce the spread of the virus to make a significant difference, Cuomo recalled Friday. The state, especially New York City and the surrounding metropolitan areas, were the nation’s original epicenter of the virus last spring.

“New Yorkers defied all the odds,” the governor said. “I believe New Yorkers are seeing the numbers in the increase and I believe they’re going to learn from it. ...New Yorkers are smart. I think they’re going to learn from Thanksgiving and I think you’ll see a smarter response through the holidays.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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