What to Know
- A total of 18 New Yorkers have tested positive for the highly contagious U.K. COVID-19 strain, Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed over the weekend, warning new variants could cause a "second wave"
- Frustrated by the flow of coronavirus vaccine from the federal government, Cuomo on Monday floated the idea of buying shots for New Yorkers directly from one of the vaccine makers, Pfizer
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city has just 92,000 first doses left and will hit zero by Friday; without federal support, the mayor said the city will have to start closing vaccine sites Thursday
Mayor Bill de Blasio had warned last week New York City would run out of vaccine at some point this week without a "major" resupply above and beyond the weekly federal allocation. On Tuesday, the mayor said the city had 92,000 first doses left.
"We will hit zero by Friday," de Blasio said. "We will have literally nothing left to give. If we don't get a new supply of vaccine we will have to cancel appointments and no longer give shots after Thursday for the remainder of the week at a lot of our sites. We will not get, on the current schedule, resupplied until next Tuesday, which means for many of our sites we couldn't vaccinate again until Wednesday."
"This is crazy. This is not the way it should be," the mayor added. "We have the ability to vaccinate a huge number of people. We need the vaccine to go with it."
New York City has dosed 455,737 thus far (52 percent of the doses delivered to date, a marked increase from where that metric stood last week). More than 51,000 of those doses have been second shots. Last week, the city administered more than 220,000 doses alone, the equivalent of one shot every three seconds.
A spokesperson for the mayor said the city has enough vaccine for second doses for some but not all of the people who have had one shot and are waiting for their second. De Blasio said it’s up to the federal and state governments as well as manufacturers to do “everything they can to get us the maximum supply because we are proving literally every passing day we can reach more and more people.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said 77 percent of the vaccine allocated to New York from the feds (excluding long-term care facility allocations) had been administered as of 11 a.m. Tuesday. New York City has administered 75 percent of doses allocated to it by the state from the federal supply, data shows.
Several hospitals have already had to cancel vaccine appointments or stop accepting new ones because of the apparent shortage. De Blasio said last week the entire appointment system could have to be frozen without a federal supply infusion, a potential forced outcome he described as "insane" at this key time.
"The good news is we have the ability to do this faster and faster. If we had the vaccine we needed we could vaccinate 300,000 people this week we're in right now -- if we had the vaccine," he said. "The problem is right now, we don't."
He said he was cheered by President-elect Joe Biden’s stated goal of 100 million vaccine doses nationwide in the first 100 days.
“New York City can help lead the way” de Blasio said. “We just need the vaccine to do it.”
Not only has the supply not increased, the federal supply has decreased by 50,000 for the state of New York this week over last, an angered Cuomo has said.
The governor has become so frustrated by the "drip, drip" flow of coronavirus vaccine from the federal government despite expanded eligibility and the threat of more transmissible viral strains that he has asked Pfizer to let New York state purchase more doses directly from the pharmaceutical company.
Cuomo sent the letter to Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla Monday, saying he was making the request because Pfizer was not bound by the same commitments Moderna made as part of the president's Operation Warp Speed.
"After myself and seven other governors called on the Trump Administration to release more doses, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that relief was on the way," Cuomo wrote. "To date, however, the federal government has not acted on that promise -- in fact, New York will receive just 250,000 doses this week, 50,000 fewer than the week prior."
"The distribution of any doses obtained directly from Pfizer will follow the rigorous guidance the state has established, while enabling us to fill the dosage gap created this week by the outgoing federal administration," he continued. "All of this will further our goal to vaccinate 70 to 90 percent of New Yorkers as soon as possible and reach herd immunity."
More than five million more New Yorkers became eligible for the vaccine last week after Cuomo expanded the rollout to people age 65 and older, among other groups, in accordance with the latest federal guidelines. The total number now eligible in the Empire State is about 7 million. At the rate of the previous 300,000 weekly vaccine doses allocated to New York, the governor has said it would take half a year to vaccinate just those eligible. This week's allocation is even smaller.
A red bar now sits atop the governor's "vaccine program" web page, one that reads in part: *ALERT: The Federal Government determines how much vaccine New York State receives. The Federal Government has only given New York approximately 250,000 vaccines/week for over 7 million people who are eligible – as a result supply is very limited.* Appointments are required to get the coveted shots, and at this point, wait times have stretched into mid-April.
Cuomo's letter to the New York-based Pfizer may have been more symbolic than anything else. The company says it would need federal approval to sell to state governments. Acknowledging that, Cuomo said he felt compelled to broach the subject anyway as New York's vaccine supply, like many others, quickly dwindles.
Pfizer board member and former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said there was a glimmer of hope in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying it could "be a real game-changer" when it comes to additional supply in the market.
The urgency for vaccinations, which Cuomo previously called “a footrace” between the vaccination rate and the infection rate, is more heightened than ever. The governor has long said the "second wave" of the pandemic has not yet arrived, despite the holiday surge.
For him, the "second wave" would come in the form of a new, more contagious viral strain. That new strain, the variant first identified in the U.K. that prompted Britain's latest lockdown and a flurry of new flight restrictions if not all-out bans, is now in New York. And it's spreading.
As of Cuomo's latest report, New York's labs had confirmed a total of 18 cases with the U.K. strain. Westchester became the latest county where the variant was detected. It has also been found in both Long Island counties as well as Queens, Manhattan, Saratoga County and Warren County. Several of the cases are linked.
"Any variant that is more infectious, that spreads more quickly creates that race against time," de Blasio said Tuesday when asked about his administration's concerns. "Our numbers are just going to go higher and higher, which means more and more people are vulnerable unless we get more and more vaccine."
A new report from the CDC last week projects the U.K. variant, known formally as B.1.1.7, could become the dominant strain in the U.S. as early as March. As the CDC warned the variant is set to dominate the U.S., doctors have said they are seeing it in at least a third of the country. With that could come yet another nationwide spike in cases in the spring, well before vaccinations reach anything remotely on the scale of critical mass.
"Not only has the federal government opened up the floodgates of eligibility without increasing the supply of vaccine, now we are seeing new strains of the virus from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil that could spark a second wave -- yet the federal government continues to do nothing. If these strains hit, we will see our numbers go right back up," Cuomo said in a statement Monday.
The numbers appeared to start to level off after a post-holiday surge dating back to Thanksgiving. Daily case totals have fallen from a near 20,000 peak last week to the 11,000-to-14,000 range on any given day. Hospitalizations had been stable in the high 8,000s over the last month, though catapulted above the 9,000-mark (9,236) Tuesday, Cuomo said. The last time that metric topped 9,000 was May 5.
Daily deaths continue to be at May highs, with another 167 added to the toll Tuesday, a lagging reflection of the increases in hospital admissions.
New York state topped the 1 million mark in vaccine dose administration Monday. Cuomo wants more. He vows "we're ready" for ramped up supply.
In response to Cuomo's letter, Pfizer Inc., said in a statement it was open to working with the federal Health and Human Services Department on getting the shots as quickly as possible to as many Americans as it could.
That agency appeared less inclined. An HHS spokesperson said via email that Cuomo is “trying to circumvent a long-planned federal allocation system by attempting to cut to the front of the line at the expense of fellow jurisdictions.”
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
The spokesperson said the top priority for HHS is "maximizing the availability of safe and effective vaccines in a manner which is responsible, fair and equitable for all Americans, not just to those in New York state.”
Cuomo has likened the federal support for New York on the vaccine front to some battles earlier in the crisis, when the competition for PPE and ventilators was paramount. The governor took to inflated purchases overseas to shore up supply.
As the worst of the pandemic started to ebb in May, he established a consortium of governors who could use their collective purchasing power to ensure none of the states found themselves price-gouged or struggling for critical supplies going forward. It's not clear if Cuomo planned to use that group to purchase more vaccines from Pfizer, should the feds give the company the OK.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
All of the states involved in that group, which includes New Jersey and Connecticut, are hopeful that the incoming Biden administration will alleviate some of their frustrations. The president-elect's CDC pick has said it is possible to achieve a goal of 100 million vaccine doses administered in his first 100 days.
As of Monday, at least 100,000 of the 1 million-plus doses administered in New York have been second shots, which complete the vaccine process.
In neighboring New Jersey, nearly 44,000 of the 388,160 shots administered to date have been second doses. Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday two more mega-sites will open soon on top of the four that have already debuted. It isn't clear how many vaccines one of the centers will get, while the one in Paramus will get just 2,000 for the rest of the week. Another 100 county-run and community-based sites are also expected to open soon, adding to the state's growing list of 130 to date, the governor added.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Meanwhile, the most-populated county in the state — Bergen County — said it may run out of the vaccine by the end of Saturday. Murphy said his state has been operating with about 100,000 vaccine doses a week in federal allocation, and that just under 400,000 people have gotten vaccinated so far. His plea Tuesday was a common one among tri-state officials: "All that we're missing are the vaccine doses we need."
"With the incoming Biden administration taking office tomorrow, and a new federal focus on pushing vaccines out at a greater pace, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to start ramping up our in-state capabilities," said Murphy, who is scheduled to attend President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.
As the tri-states await the help they say they expect to get from the next administration, the human and economic cost of the pandemic continues to rise. Coronavirus deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of U.S. states as a winter surge pushed the overall toll above 400,000 on Tuesday, according to NBC News data.