Why New York’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout stalled and how to fix it

Why New York’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout stalled and how to
fix it 1

If you live in Florida or Texas, and you’re 65 or older, you can get in line for a COVID-19 vaccine at a mall, stadium or drive-thru center. You may have to wait hours, but being in line is better than being in the dark. That’s where most New Yorkers find themselves: desperate to get vaccinated, with no way to sign up. It may be months before they can. Other states are failing, too.

The first vaccines were shipped to the states Dec. 13, but most are sitting on shelves unused, while some 2,600 people a day die from the novel coronavirus nationwide. State and local officials, including Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, are showing a depraved indifference to life as they play politics over who gets vaccine priority.

The public should demand that these officials open up mass vaccination centers and get lifesaving shots into our arms.

De Blasio is boasting that 1 million Gothamites will be vaccinated by the end of January. But as of Monday, only a handful of sites have been opened — for health workers only.

The mayor says he plans to send an e-mail to city employees asking them to volunteer to administer the vaccines. De Blasio should be asking Cuomo to call in the ­National Guard to set up and operate vaccination sites. West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland are already using the guard and turning armories into vaccine clinics. Hizzoner should be treating vaccination like a D-Day invasion in the war against the virus.

That’s how the city responded to the challenge of smallpox in 1947. With no warning, smallpox — a deadly disease thought to have been eradicated — was brought to New York by a sick traveler. All it takes to spread smallpox is a cough, sneeze or touch, just like COVID-19. Back then, the city Department of Health swung into action and vaccinated more than 6 million residents in one month. First come, first served. And it worked. Only two New Yorkers died.

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Compare that to the thousands expected to die in the coming months because they couldn’t get the vaccine.

De Blasio says the city would be moving faster if the state loosens regulations on who can receive the vaccine. He has got a point. Right now, the state is limiting the vaccine to health workers and long-term-care residents, and next in line will be “essential workers” — mostly from unions — and people over 75. That means seniors ages 65 to 74 and adults with critical health problems will wait several months.

The Cuomo administration is adamant about that schedule, even though two-thirds of vaccines are unused.

That’s a mistake. States doling out vaccines in tiny increments are letting people die needlessly and delaying herd immunity, when enough people are vaccinated to stop the virus.

The invasion of a new, more contagious strain of COVID is another reason to vaccinate widely, advises former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. It’s likely to become the dominant strain, increasing everyone’s risk. It has now been identified in New York. Gottlieb advises “moving more quickly into a general vaccination program” for people 65 and up.

Will Cuomo listen? He has shown a callous lack of interest. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested a vaccine rollout plan, New York sent in 86 pages of blather: no specifics on where the shots would be given or who would administer them when hospital staff are ­already stretched. Yet we have known for months the vaccines were coming.

Of course, when the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs, Cuomo jumped into action, charging the state to produce a precision plan to open the stadium at limited ­capacity. Meanwhile, next Saturday, when the Bills play, another 150 New Yorkers will likely die from COVID-19.

New Yorkers should be in open revolt and screaming bloody murder about the vaccination delay. Because that’s what it is.

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

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