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State Lawmakers Raise Questions with Vaccine Distribution

Republican lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly on Saturday released a list of 22 questions raising concerns with New York’s progress in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled new plans to ramp up the effort. 

The letter, sent to Cuomo, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, and the governor’s point person on distribution Larry Schwartz, comes as vaccine distribution in New York has lagged. 

“The early stages of the state’s vaccine rollout and distribution plan is already behind and, quite frankly, it’s inexcusable,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay.

“New Yorkers need to be confident in the state’s expedient and thorough distribution of the vaccine, and the current plan is not instilling that confidence. Dr. Zucker must address a number of questions – that remain unasked and unanswered – regarding the vaccine’s distribution, including why New York State is being outperformed by other states’ ability to administer vaccines to their residents.”

Among the questions raised: When will people with auto-immune diseases receive the vaccine? When will proposed vaccine distribution schedules be released publicly? When will daily reports on vaccine progress be released publicly? When will counties be able to begin their own vaccine distribution plans? How will rural communities have access to the vaccine?

Cuomo on Friday announced New York would expand its distribution of the vaccine to include more sites and begin setting up mass inoculation sites around the state. 

About 479,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in New York as the state focuses on health care workers in the first round of distribution. Nursing home residents and staff received vaccinations as part of a federally administered program through chain pharmacies. 

Less than half of all health care workers in the state as Friday afternoon have received the first dose of the vaccine. 

Cuomo announced in a news conference New York would begin scheduling people who fall under phase “1b” of distribution, which includes people over age 75 as well as essential workers including teachers, firefighters and police officers. 

Cuomo has urged public-sector labor unions to begin their own vaccination efforts for their members. And the state is moving forward with having private doctor networks, pharmacies and other sites administer the vaccine. 

Still, lawmakers continue to raise questions. This week, Zucker briefed lawmakers in closed-door meetings about the progress with distribution. But legislators came away with conflicting messages. 

“While we appreciate the Health Commissioner taking the time to speak to our conference and field questions from our members — unfortunately, many questions went unanswered and in some instances, we were given mixed messages and conflicting information,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt. “The bottom line is the vaccine rollout throughout the state has been inefficient and ineffective, and I look forward to getting the answers that we, and all New Yorkers, deserve.”

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