Andrew Cuomo

‘Scared to Death:' NYC Issues Vaccine Plea as Eligibility Grows; Cuomo Says WH Will Send More

The White House pledged another 5 percent boost in weekly allocation to states over the next three weeks on top of the roughly 20 percent increase promised over the same time period, Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo says NYers age 16+ with underlying conditions are vaccine-eligible starting Feb. 15; they'll have to bring some sort of proof of their comorbidity and the state will audit local systems
  • NYC officials say any of the three forms of validation are acceptable; city residents with qualifying comorbidities can begin scheduling appointments the day they become eligible, on Monday, Feb. 15
  • State-run sites are accepting appointments for people with pre-existing conditions starting Sunday, though the first shots won't be until Monday at the earliest; first dose supply remains an issue

Officials are warning New Yorkers with underlying health conditions to expect a mad "crush" of people trying to sign up for vaccine appointments when state eligibility opens up to them next week -- an influx that may mark the biggest stress test the already taxed and still young system has seen so far.

Consider it the equivalent of "10 million New Yorkers" chasing "300,000 vaccines," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, referring to the state's weekly federal first dose allocation versus the rough number of those who will be eligible come next week. He said that the state's supply will only increase when and if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved by the FDA for emergency use.

A bit more of a boost is on the way -- Cuomo said Tuesday the White House pledged another 5 percent boost in weekly allocation to states over the next three weeks on top of the roughly 20 percent increase promised over the same time period. Cuomo said the feds would also directly allocate to qualified community centers in states above and beyond the states' allocations, which will provide further assistance. There will be 1 million of those doses sent nationwide.

It's not clear how many will go to New York City, which Mayor Bill de Blasio says can do half a million vaccines a week if it had the supply. It doesn't -- and the eligibility pool is about to be expanded significantly in less than a week.

"There are so many people who have those pre-existing conditions who are just scared to death right now," de Blasio said Tuesday. "Even a first vaccination is going to mean so much to them. We clearly need a hell of a lot more supply."

Everything that happened to day in the fight against COVID-19. NBC New York's Adam Harding reports.

As it is, wait times for just the 7 million or so New Yorkers eligible now have stretched past mid-April. Weather-related closures and supply-forced delays have forced the postponements of tens of thousands of appointments over the course of the last month, while millions more are desperate for the right to get in line.

New Yorkers ages 16 and older with certain qualifying underlying conditions, including cancer, pregnancy, immune system issues, heart conditions and diabetes, among others, earn that coveted right to sign up for appointments at state-run sites Sunday, a day before they officially become eligible to get shots. Cuomo's list of qualifying conditions is a combination of state and CDC guidance (he opted not to list smoking as a pre-existing condition, which New Jersey does).

Vaccine-eligible people must provide one of three forms of validation of their qualifying condition -- a doctor's letter, medical documentation or an attestation specifically confirming diagnosis, Cuomo has said. He left it up to local jurisdictions to determine which forms of validation they'll accept at sites they run, as well as when to begin accepting appointments at those sites.

As the site that the mayor called a "game-changer" opens, the state is expanding vaccine eligibility to residents with certain underlying conditions. NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city's health commissioner who is himself recovering from COVID-19, said Tuesday that city residents with qualifying conditions can begin making their appointments at any of the hundreds of vaccine hubs and centers across the five boroughs on the day they become eligible, Monday, Feb. 15.

He also said city-run sites will accept either of the three forms of validation to give New Yorkers some flexibility as far as meeting that requirement.

comorbidities validate

See the full list of underlying conditions that qualify NYers for vaccine eligibility

Newly eligible New Yorkers will likely be waiting some time for their shots, even if they manage to schedule appointments next week. Cuomo told all jurisdictions to be sure not to schedule out appointments beyond known first dose allocation.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said Monday that hundreds of thousands of people are already on the state vaccine website on a daily basis, refreshing constantly as they try to get appointments. That traffic will increase.

"This will not be perfect. Everybody should go into this with their eyes wide open," DeRosa warned. "It's going to be frustrating. It is going to be a crush. Everyone is going to do their best to try to in real time catch glitches and get things up and running. But it's going to be a tough period."

And that's just trying to schedule appointments at one of the sites in the state's sprawling distribution network, which has climbed to about 5,000 providers, many of which are still waiting for additionally supply to ramp up their operations.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio continues to call out the state and federal government for, according to him, not allowing sufficient freedom to vaccinate as it relates to the temporary use of reserved second doses for firsts.

The mayor once again referred to his prior -- and repeat -- request to the state to allow the city to use reserve second dose shots as first doses while supply ramps up. The state most recently denied that request late last week, citing CDC guidance opposing reallocation of that reserved second dose supply. Should federal guidance around the shots change, though, Cuomo will allow it.

As of Tuesday, the governor said the CDC and other top federal health experts remained "adamantly opposed" to the idea. If a person doesn't show up to get a second dose shot, however, that second dose can be reallocated after 42 days. Unused first doses for the federal nursing program, however, can be reallocated -- and the state is looking into how it might distribute tens of thousands of those.

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

Meanwhile, the state- and city-run distribution networks continue to expand. Yet another New York City mega-site, this one a 24/7 operation that will run out of the Mets' Citi Field, opens Wednesday. Half of the appointments will be reserved for eligible Queens residents, while the other half will be reserved for TLC licensees and food delivery workers.

The LIRR will have 84 Port Washington trains a day stop at Citi Field to help get people to the site, which will have a smaller rollout than previously anticipated. De Blasio confirmed only 200 doses per day will be given out there. He said more will be shifted there in coming days.

The jointly run state and city mega-site at Yankee Stadium is for Bronx residents only; that one opened last week, and doles out 2,000 vaccines a day.

Like people with underlying conditions, de Blasio says food delivery workers will also have to provide proof of eligibility. The first doses especially are precious; neither he, Cuomo, nor anyone else want to see people abuse the system.

"We want to make sure that people really do have proof. This is something that's – you know, when we're providing a focused, priority effort to help some of the most essential workers and people we've depended on, we’ve got to make sure it's actually the folks who have done the work," the mayor said. "And so, we're going to obviously have some checks and balances in place on that."

It takes Pfizer 110 days to produce a batch of its COVID-19 vaccine. The company says it expects to soon shorten that time to 60 days.

To date, New York City has administered more than 1 million total vaccine doses, more than the entire population of San Jose, California. The vast majority of shots (69 percent) done to date have been first doses. City-run programs have administered nearly 717,000 of those so far, about 94 percent of the total first doses delivered to those programs since the federal rollout began in December.

The city has fewer than 43,000 first doses left on hand as of Tuesday, but the Week 8 federal allocation -- which included a roughly 20 percent boost to states -- started to arrive at providers over the weekend and should help boost supply.

Statewide, more than 2.5 million total vaccine doses have been administered to date, including 1.8 million-plus first doses. Roughly 10 percent of New Yorkers have received at least a first dose, Cuomo said Tuesday. About 92 percent of the first dose allocation received to date has been used. That's why it's so difficult to get an appointment in the near future, even as eligibility continues to expand.

The governor is still moving to ease some coronavirus restrictions, even as he acknowledges the goal of critical mass remains many months away. He says the state and city can't stay shut down another half year or even another three months. Daily statewide positivity rates have been declining for roughly a full month, while the rolling statewide positivity average Tuesday is the lowest since Dec. 1, Cuomo said. New York City has also seen substantial declines as of late.

"Our post-holiday surge reduction is continuing, and that is the direct result of the toughness of New Yorkers who have sacrificed and done what is needed to beat back this invisible enemy. Our infection rate is the lowest it has been since Dec.1, so we're back to where we started on the holiday surge," Cuomo said Tuesday.

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


Citing ongoing improvement in state and city numbers, Cuomo said that indoor dining could resume at 25 percent capacity across the five boroughs two days earlier than scheduled -- on Friday, which allows restaurants to reap the rewards of full Valentine's Day weekend business rather than just a single day.

That incremental reopening step comes just a few weeks after the governor lifted almost all of the state's micro-cluster zone restrictions -- a decision he says was made because the data shows New York is beyond the so-dreaded holiday surge.

Still, loosening restrictions even to these incremental degrees have some experts wary -- as more contagious variants spread rapidly across the U.S. while the national vaccination rollout is still in a stage of relative infancy.

Indoor dining will reopen sooner than expected this Friday, and restaurant owners are thrilled.

“When we remove interventions, we frequently see resurgences,” infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Justin Lessler of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said. “When new variants come along, the stepping back that may have been OK before is not OK anymore."

The governor of New York does acknowledge the threat from the variants -- to a significant degree. He has said that at this point, those highly transmissible strains are the only things that could overwhelm the healthcare system.

"Now more than ever, it's critically important we stay united and keep the momentum on our side - especially as new variants of the virus threaten to upend the progress we have made," Cuomo said Tuesday. "Simultaneously, we also must continue to get New Yorkers vaccinated as quickly and fairly as possible."

With new COVID-19 variants from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil now spreading, doctors are rushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before more mutations arise. Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a regional director of One Medical, joined LX News to talk about why vaccines are so important right now and how she encourages her patients to overcome their skepticism about it.

More than 900 cases of the three main variants of concern have been detected in 34 U.S. states so far, the vast majority of those (690) being the U.K. strain, according to the CDC. Thus far, just five total cases of the South African and Brazilian variants have been detected in the U.S. in five states -- Maryland, Virginia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Minnesota, according to the agency's latest data.

The CDC has warned the U.K. variant could become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March, potentially leading to another spring spike in cases. A new study found cases of the U.K. variant in the U.S. are doubling every 10 days.

Confirmed U.K. strain cases in the U.S. include at least 59 in New York state, with Cuomo adding another 15 to the tally Friday, 31 in New Jersey (another 12 since Friday) and 17 in Connecticut, though officials believe the actual number of variant cases in their respective states is higher than reported.

At least one expert says the known cases are likely just the "tip of the iceberg."

The head of the CDC warned Monday the emergence of the variants could reverse recent drops in U.S. coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and potentially generate another spike in the spring. Of greater potential concern, mounting evidence indicates that having COVID-19 may not protect a person against getting infected again with some of the new variants emerging globally.

Overall, existing vaccines are expected to work against the variants and new strains that will emerge over time, which is natural for the course of a virus. Officials just hope potential new cases won't continue to add markedly to America's world-high COVID death toll, which has topped 466,000 -- and counting.

COVID-19 is the leading cause of death so far in 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It outpaced average daily U.S. fatalities for the second leading cause of death, heart disease, by 47 percent, in January, Kaiser data shows.

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