New York state will accept new federal guidance to open up Covid vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older as well as younger people who are immunocompromised, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
In accepting the new guidance, which Cuomo said came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the governor also criticized the move. He said demand will quickly outstrip supply. The state had previously been prioritizing health-care workers and recently expanded eligibility to include those 75 and older.
Cuomo said further expanding to those 65 and older will open the eligibility to about 7 million people, but the state is only receiving about 300,000 doses per week.
"We are going to accept the federal guidance," Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters. "I don't want New Yorkers to think that we are not doing everything we can to make them eligible for the vaccine, because I want to keep people in New York as calm as we can keep people in these anxious times."
Cuomo said the state is still dealing with a "drip, drip, drip from the faucet of federal dosage availability," which is inhibiting the state's ability to vaccinate people. The federal government has been withholding more than half of all available vaccine doses to ensure that there's enough for second booster shots needed to achieve maximum immunity.
But the Trump administration will announce Tuesday that the government will begin distributing those doses to states, a senior administration official told CNBC.
Cuomo noted that the new guidance could create more headaches in the vaccine rollout. He said there is no sub-prioritization for people 90 years old with health complications, for example. He added that if the current rate of dose allocation continues, it will take about six months to vaccinate everyone 65 and older, as well as the other eligible groups such as health-care workers.
"So you're telling people today, 'You're eligible,' but you're simultaneously telling people, 'We don't have enough dosages to get to you for the next six months,'" Cuomo said. "Is that helpful? I don't think so. I think it creates more frustration and more anxiety."
Cuomo urged President-elect Joe Biden to examine the policy and consider revising it once he takes office next week.
"I think it's going to create national frustration and suggest that the government is not capable," Cuomo said. "And the last thing we need now is people frustrated or losing belief in the competence of government."
The original federal prioritization guidance was determined by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices last month. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield accepted its recommendation to prioritize health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. Then states should move on to those 75 years and older and frontline essential workers, the committee said.
But the new federal guidance appears to throw the original recommendations out the door. Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University, who serves as a liaison to the advisory committee, said in an interview with CNBC that the demand for vaccines will now greatly exceed supply.
He added that while this is new federal guidance, every state is still determining its own vaccination plan. He said there have been different problems with the rollout in different parts of the country. Some parts of the country are facing surprisingly high levels of vaccine hesitancy, leading to higher supply than demand, while others have quickly opened vaccine eligibility, outstripping supply.
"This is, I think, a symptom of inadequate federal direction," Schaffner said.