‘Time to Sprint:’ Concerns Grow in New York That Vaccination Effort is Lagging

Medical personnel prepare a coronavirus vaccine against COVID-19 to be administered to New York City firefighter emergency medical services personnel at the FDNY Fire Academy in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.

Medical personnel prepare a coronavirus vaccine against COVID-19 to be administered to New York City firefighter emergency medical services personnel at the FDNY Fire Academy in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. AP Photo/Seth Wenig


Connecting state and local government leaders

The state’s governor and the mayor of New York City on Monday both recognized the need to pick up the pace.

With criticism mounting over the pace of New York’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both acknowledged the need to speed up inoculations as coronavirus cases in the state swell and a newer strain of the virus has been detected in an upstate city.

People eligible for the vaccine have been receiving it in New York for about three weeks. In New York City, which has around 8 million residents, about 100,000 shots have been given out prior to this week, according to de Blasio. On Monday, he defended the early vaccination effort, saying there had been challenges with logistical issues like keeping vaccines cold, as well as with building public trust.

“From this week on I expect these numbers to increase intensely,” he said. “It's now time to sprint. Seven days a week, wherever possible, 24 hours a day." 

He said that the city could use more flexibility from the state when it comes to who is allowed to get the vaccine. A range of hospital and health care workers and residents and staff at nursing homes are among those who are currently eligible for it.

De Blasio said he expects that as many as 400,000 doses could be going into New Yorkers' arms each week by the end of the month. The city also has a goal of doubling the number of sites where the vaccine is available from around 125 to at least 250 by that time. 

Over the weekend, New York City Council member Mark Levine, who chairs the council’s Health Committee, knocked the city’s progress on vaccinations so far.

“Vaccination in New York City is basically only occurring during regular business hours. Very little on weekends. Almost none on holidays,” he wrote on Twitter. “We are in a war-like situation. We need to be vaccinating TWENTY FOUR-SEVEN."

"We are losing precious time," he added.

Levine said on Monday that the council has scheduled an oversight hearing on the city’s vaccination program for next week.

Cuomo, meanwhile, said the state Department of Health is warning hospitals and other care providers that they could be fined up to $100,000 for not using their current vaccine allocations by the end of the week and that they could be barred from future shipments if they’re lagging and fail to meet certain benchmarks.

“We’ll use other hospitals who can administer it better,” he said.

"I want to get needles in the arms and I want to get that done as quickly as possible," Cuomo added.

The governor singled out public officials—de Blasio among them—overseeing 24 publicly managed hospitals in the state, saying they need to get more involved in pushing along the vaccination process. “I need them to take personal responsibility for their hospitals. This is a management issue of the hospitals,” Cuomo said. “They have to move the vaccine and they have to move the vaccine faster.” 

Cuomo also said that a man in Saratoga Springs has now tested positive for a reportedly more contagious variant of the coronavirus that is cropping up around the world. It marked the first confirmed case of the virus mutation in the state.

Nationwide, the vaccine rollout has gotten off to a slower than expected start.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data updated on Monday showed the number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine totals around 4.5 million, with about 15.4 million doses distributed. There are about 328 million people living in the U.S.

De Blasio said New York City has plans to have three vaccination hubs up and running by Sunday that will be able to administer thousands of doses. The first three sites will be located at public education facilities, including one at a high school. Members of the city’s roughly 13,000-person medical reserve corps could help staff these sites. 

The mayor also said that while the city has enough doses to stay on track with its goals into next week, it doesn’t have the supply needed to hit a target of 1 million doses administered by Feb. 1. "We need the federal government to keep up with us. We need the manufacturers to keep up with us. That’s the concern later in January,” de Blasio said.

Because most of the currently available vaccines require two shots, hitting one million doses by the end of January would not mean that one million people would have received a shot. Instead, some of the doses would have gone to the same individuals.

In neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy last month announced plans for six vaccination “mega sites,” including convention centers, a mall, a horse race track and a college. The goal is for those sites to provide as many as 2,400 vaccinations per day. There are plans for other vaccination sites in New Jersey as well.

Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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