By Hazel Shahgholi
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Letitia James raised red flags on Sunday over the federal government’s plan for administering a COVID-19 vaccine, once it receives FDA approval.
Reflecting on meetings with the White House Coronavirus Task Force over the weekend, Cuomo pointed to structural racism as a particular problem for targeting minority black and brown communities who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in terms of infection and death rates.
Specifically, Trump’s plan to deliver doses of the vaccine from Big Pharma producers such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to a network of private chain pharmacies does not attend to the issue of “healthcare deserts,” according to Cuomo. He said that primarily affects Black and Brown communities across New York and America.
Cuomo urged that the task force pay attention to the data and not repeat mistakes made in March, which saw testing efforts proportionately lower in black and brown communities — in spite of the high concentration of essential workers in these groups.
To James, this distribution model mimics that used for the deployment of the common flu vaccination, which is inappropriate to the urgent need for a “nationwide distribution of a life-saving vaccine,” which would mark one of the biggest and most consequential undertakings of any US government in recent memory.
“Although you might see a CVS or a Duane Reade on every other block in Manhattan, in lower-income communities these businesses do not exist,” James said.
Joining Cuomo and James on the Nov. 2 conference call with reporters National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, who also called for a complete rewrite of the federal government plan. Both James and Morial advocated for more robust outreach by way of public and nonprofit distribution points such as schools, community centers and faith-based organizations, while Morial further lamented the politicization of the vaccine effort according to the election cycle.
Cuomo highlighted the absence of federal dollars for distribution, stating that only $140 million had been set aside for vaccine distribution—less than that awarded for state testing.
For the governor, the rush in seeking FDA approval for a vaccine on an “expeditious if not reckless basis” was mirrored in the distribution network plan, which he described as “repugnant, discriminatory and unintelligent for all Americans.”
Common sense factors, such as crowded lines and long wait times, were also discussed as potential pitfalls of a private sector-only model.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson urged the federal government to learn not from their past behavior, but from previous administrations that have harnessed community access points in successful vaccination efforts. Only via community organizations can outreach be successful and “put people put above profits.”
Inclusivity was the resounding message of Cuomo’s announcement, with the governor emphasizing that “until everyone is safe, nobody is safe.”