NEW YORK — An independent state task force of scientists and health experts will review the safety of any federally approved COVID-19 vaccine before doses are administered to New Yorkers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
Led by the state Health Department, the state’s Clinical Advisory Task Force will include dozens of state doctors, health experts and leading officials who will review every vaccine authorized by the federal government for distribution and advise the state on their effectiveness.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said a coronavirus vaccine will be available before the Nov. 3 election.
“My question is, is the vaccine safe?” Cuomo said Thursday during a coronavirus briefing in Manhattan. “I want to make sure we know it’s safe to take. Frankly, I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion and I wouldn’t recommend New Yorkers trust the federal government’s opinion.
“We have the best hospitals and research facilities on the globe in this state. We will put together a group for them to review the vaccine so I can look at the camera and can say to New Yorkers, ‘It’s safe to take.’”
If task-force members decide the COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective, the group will devise a distribution and implementation plan, including training and procuring sufficient dosages of the vaccine.
“We’re going to have to buy it, and it’s going to be expensive,” Cuomo said. “Who do we buy it from? I want to make sure we don’t go through the same mess we did with COVID on PPE (personal protective equipment) procurement ... it winds up driving up the price.”
The vaccine requires two doses per person — or roughly 40 million inoculations for 19.5 million New Yorkers. It must be stored at -80° Celsius, or -112° Fahrenheit.
“Implementation is a massive undertaking,” Cuomo said. “You think what we’ve done thus far has been massive, administering a vaccine to every New Yorker... this is a massive undertaking.”
The governor cast doubt Trump and federal officials will produce a safe and effective vaccine because of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For several months, Cuomo has railed against the president for lacking an adequate national testing and contact-tracing plan, or testing supplies and personal protective equipment this past spring.
“Like everything else in this country, it’s partisan and there’s controversy about it,” the governor said. “We’re not sure what its [the vaccine’s] role is going to be. I don’t think the federal government understands what its role is going to be.”
Cuomo cited a recent survey in which 54% of Americans said they would not take a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day.
“The people of this country don’t trust this federal government with this vaccine process,” Cuomo said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, addressed Thursday what he called “the elephant in the room” — whether the public should be concerned about a coronavirus vaccine being rushed before it is deemed safe and effective.
The vaccine company gets the data and presents it to the FDA’s “career scientists,” who then decide if they agree with the findings, Fauci said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will consult with another advisory committee, and if they all agree, the data are made public to the larger scientific community at universities and other federal agencies.
In November or December — although “conceivably in October” — the FDA will have decided if the vaccine is safe and by the end of this year and early 2021, 700 doses of the vaccine will be produced, Fauci said.
Knowing the vaccine reluctance that exists in the country, Fauci said reaching 75% to 80% of the population “would be a really good accomplishment.” He can see that process playing out throughout the second and third quarters of 2021, and likely into the fourth quarter of the year.
President Donald Trump has said a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month, contradicting the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, who, like Fauci, says distribution would not likely begin until November or December.
The state will prioritize administering a safe, effective vaccine based on clinical guidance.
“Who gets the vaccine first is based on medical standards — not anything else,” Cuomo said.
The governor hopes New York will have the strongest vaccination program in the U.S. and be a model for other states, he said.
“We should be the model vaccination program in the country,” Cuomo added. “It’s a tremendous advantage for any state to be the first COVID-free state. You feel now the advantages New York has for having a lower infection rate. What if you were the first state to vaccinate your entire population?
“Those are the goals. We’re going to start, and we’re going to start now.”
The state reported 955 new coronavirus infections Thursday, or 1.02% of 92,953 COVID-19 tests conducted Wednesday. Members of the state’s coronavirus task force and regional control boards continue to monitor new COVID-19 cases in Western New York and New York City after several virus clusters and hot spots appeared in those regions.
Cuomo said 500 virus patients remain in state hospitals — an increase of about 10 from last weekend and earlier this week.
Two New Yorkers died from the coronavirus in hospitals Wednesday, down from five Tuesday.
“You remember when those death numbers were literally in the hundreds for days,” the governor said. “Facts are still facts, even in this crazy time of hyper-partisanship rhetoric. What New Yorkers did is extraordinary and they saved thousands of lives. That is inarguable, we just have to keep it that way.”
The governor encouraged all New Yorkers to get the annual influenza vaccine as flu season emerges, and threatens to complicate COVID-19 testing and results.
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.