Mayor asks governor to expand vaccine categories, Cuomo says hospital workers first

Mayor Bill de Blasio observe vaccinations of healthcare worker Tara Easter at NYU Langone Health in Manhattan on Monday, December 14, 2020.
Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech

Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed back against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order to stop the city’s delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to all NYPD and Department of Corrections officers arguing that the city was appropriately following the state’s vaccine distribution guidelines. 

Last month, Cuomo said the state would enter phase 1a of his COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan stating that frontline healthcare workers with a high risk of contracting the virus as well as those who live and work in nursing homes were eligible to receive the vaccine. But there is still confusion surrounding the distribution plan the state website outlines a number of other groups that are eligible to receive the vaccine including EMS workers, coroners, medical examiners, urgent care providers, and those administering the vaccine. 

Yesterday, de Blasio announced that NYPD and Department of Correction officers were eligible to receive the vaccine claiming both groups fit the state’s definition of “high risk” frontline worker. But the governor squashed the hours after the announcement arguing that vaccine supplies signaling the start of a new tug-of-war between the officials.

“Yesterday, I told you about a new State rules that come out that we interpreted, and we think very clearly, very appropriately, very legally, to mean that we could vaccinate our correction officers, that we could vaccinate our police officers who respond to 911 calls, who have to administer CPR, who have to administer Narcan to stop someone from overdosing,” de Blasio told reporters on Thursday before urging the governor to approve all phase 1b groups for the vaccine. 

Police officers who provide emergency medical services are allowed to receive the vaccine under phase 1a while all other officers won’t become eligible until phase 1b along with teachers, school staffers, public safety workers, public transit workers and New Yorkers 75 and older. 

“That should be a decision today… we should be able to vaccinate them right now,” said de Blasio. “All essential workers, first responders, food service, grocery, we’ve depended on them in this crisis, they’ve been heroes, childcare workers, educators, teachers, school staff.” 

Cuomo argues that the new groups can not be authorized yet since localities across the state still have not administered enough vaccines to hospital workers. And since a new COVID strain from the UK has now been detected in New York, it is even more critical hospital workers be the primary recipients of the vaccine. 

“We have increased beds, we have the equipment. The problem now is shortages, primarily nurses. That’s why we reinforced that healthcare workers get vaccinated,” said Cuomo. “When you’re on an airplane and the announcement comes on that when the oxygen mask falls, put it on you first then a child – the equivalent here is to protect your healthcare system. Keep hospitals open so if you need them, there is a bed and a staff to assist you.”

Cuomo says that one of the main issues that New York continues to have remains with the distribution of the vaccine. Though there are 2 million healthcare workers in the 1a category across New York, the state only receives 300,000 doses per week, and only has 900,000 at the moment.

“We don’t even have enough vaccines for half the number of healthcare workers,” said Cuomo. “We need to get them vaccinated.”

Once the essential workers of 1b are able to get the vaccine, Cuomo stated that in distributing these vaccinations, no group can be given priority over the other.

“It is one group and they will be treated fairly,” said Cuomo. “I’m not going to pick police over teachers over firefighters over grandma, grandpa, or in my case, mom – that just won’t be allowed, period.”

Additional reporting by Emily Davenport

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