ALBANY — Nursing home residents and staff will be the first to receive New York’s initial shipment of 170,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive within two weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, as officials develop plans to increase New Yorkers’ confidence to receive the immunization.
The first doses of vaccine from Manhattan-based drugmaker Pfizer will arrive by Dec. 15, the governor announced Wednesday during a coronavirus briefing in the state Capitol in Albany. The federal government is slated to deliver rolling vaccine shipments to states based on population in the coming weeks.
Vaccines will be administered by injection and require two doses per person a few weeks apart. A supplemental shipment to boost the vaccination of the initial 170,000 patients is expected about three weeks later.
Health experts across the globe estimate 75% to 85% of the population must be vaccinated to be effective.
“That is a tremendously high percentage,” Cuomo said, adding about 660 million doses are required to twice vaccinate each American. “We need social acceptance and confidence to take the vaccine. This will be the greatest governmental operation undertaken since World War II, in my opinion.”
The governor will resume in-person coronavirus briefings at least three times a week scheduled for each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting next week as cases and hospitalizations surge across the state and the next stage of the pandemic begins.
A similar-sized shipment of Moderna’s vaccine is expected to be delivered to the state by the end of the month, with consistent rolling shipments from both providers every week to 10 days.
Several nonpolitical national polls, including Kaiser and Pew, showed only about half of Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccine when approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
The first shipment will be prioritized for the state’s 130,000 nursing home staff and roughly 80,000 residents, and will be available to any person who wants to receive the vaccine.
Cuomo, state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and other top aides in the state’s Coronavirus Task Force expect the first shipment of 170,000 dosages will cover the number of residents and staff willing to take the immunization.
“If you start with a public that is 50% skeptical to take the vaccine, that is a major problem,” Cuomo said. “Maybe the 170 [thousand] does all the nursing homes and staff because you’re going to have a fall-off on the number of people. You have to get 75 to 85%. I don’t think you’re going to be anywhere near that in the beginning.”
“With that first allocation, we should be able to do all of the nursing homes, all of the residents and all of the workers, so we’re not picking and choosing,” said state Budget Director Robert Mujica, a leading member of the state’s Coronavirus Task Force.
The Health Department and task force closely study nursing home clusters statewide each day.
“We want to protect all the nursing home residents and staff,” Zucker said Wednesday. “If someone brings it in, we want to be sure all of those residents are protected even if no one had it yet.”
Successful and effective vaccine distribution is contingent on President Donald Trump and his administration’s plans, which Cuomo and other state leaders have criticized over the last several weeks.
Cuomo plans for a rigorous statewide public relations campaign about the immunization, with special outreach efforts tailored for Black, brown and poor communities hit hardest by the pandemic.
On Tuesday, Cuomo and 54 lobbyist and activist groups penned a letter to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department urging Trump and his administration to focus on outreach to Black, brown, Asian and low-income communities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans.
Undocumented immigrants also cannot be dissuaded from receiving the immunization, Cuomo said, as the federal government requires all states to submit a data-sharing agreement before receiving vaccine shipments.
Black Americans have died from the novel coronavirus at double the rate, and brown Americans one-and-a-half times more frequently than whites as minority and low-income neighborhoods remain underserved by private health care facilities.
“The Black and brown communities have already paid a disproportionate price,” Cuomo said. “If you don’t have the participation of Black and brown communities, you’re never going to hit the goal of 75 to 85%, and [it] will fail for all New Yorkers and all Americans.”
Officials estimate a successful vaccine distribution effort could cost New York $1 billion.
“Who’s supposed to pay for this?” Cuomo said. “There has to be funding to administer the vaccine. It’s not enough to say they’ll deliver them to your state. That’s very nice, but FedEx can deliver the vaccine. Who’s going to do this and who’s going to pay for it?”
The federal government expects enough dosages to vaccinate 20 million people with two doses each, or roughly 6% of Americans.
“That gives you an idea of where we’re going to be,” Cuomo said.
Officials expect the vaccine to be widely available to the public in late spring or early summer 2021 at the earliest.
New Yorkers, including health care and nursing home workers, will not be forced to take the vaccine, Cuomo said.
“You can’t mandate that somebody takes the vaccine, or we’re not mandating it,” he said. “I don’t think we’d be successful [to say] ‘you must take the vaccine.’ We’re trying to do it the other way — public education to show that it’s safe.”
The state formed its own vaccine approval panel of global scientists and national health experts to independently determine immunization safety. California has a similar vaccine-approval team in place.
“It’s not that state panels created the cynicism; the cynicism created the state’s panels,” Cuomo said.
The state and nation continue to battle soaring COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths with the fall surge, which officials expect to increase steadily through at least mid-January with the upcoming holiday season.
Another figurative mountain of cases is growing, Cuomo said, similar to the state’s initial spring virus outbreak, or heightening curve, which Coronavirus Task Force members have encouraged New Yorkers to “flatten” with social distancing and wearing face masks. The apex of the subsequent outbreak will plateau for an undetermined period before declining, depending on the vaccine’s production and delivery schedule.
New Yorkers’ vigilance must continue with increased precautions against small get-togethers or gatherings in a private residence, which the governor has coined “living-room spread.”
“We’ve tracked about 20% of those to a specific source, and that source goes back to households and social gatherings that are not following the rules,” Mujica said.
The newly emerged virus transmission factor causes about 70% of the state’s viral transmission, with about 140,000 infections caused by small gatherings between late September and Nov. 20.
“The question is, how fast do the cases increase?” Cuomo said. “Nobody can tell you because no one can tell you what people do. There is no predetermined fate. It is a pure function of what New Yorkers do.”
The statewide infection rate was 4.2% excluding oversampled microclusters, down from 4.4% Tuesday, and 4.63% including hot spots, also down from 4.96% the day before.
New York’s infection rate is 3.9% on a seven-day average — the fifth-lowest of all U.S. states and territories.
Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 2,150 patients Wednesday to 3,924 people.
Hospitalizations continue to increase in each of the state’s 10 regions.
The number of COVID-19 patients increased by 72 people, or nearly 60%, in the Capital District Region over the last three weeks, with a 163.5% increase in Central New York at 121 additional patients, 148.8% in the Mid-Hudson Valley with 305 people; and four patients in the North Country — a 17.4% increase.
Western New York, which includes the city of Buffalo and surrounding areas, reports the state’s highest surge in virus hospitalizations with a 262.4% increase since early November, or 307 patients.
Sixty-nine New Yorkers died from the virus Tuesday, up from 66 Monday, and about 35 daily fatalities every day last week.
“The bad news is, we have another mountain to climb,” Cuomo said. “The good news is, the goal line is in sight.”