Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday that the state will conduct its own safety review of any vaccine the federal government approves to prevent COVID-19 infections, and he named a panel to develop a plan to vaccinate everyone in the state.
Citing concerns that political factors will drive the federal decision about whether to authorize any vaccine, Cuomo said a state review is needed to assure the public any vaccine really is safe to use.
“New York State will have its own review when the federal government says it is safe,” Cuomo said at a press conference Thursday in Manhattan. “I want to make sure we know it is safe to take.”
The concerns, he said, grow out of President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that a vaccine will be ready by early November — around Election Day. Most public health officials consider that timeline optimistic, by at least a couple of months. Several vaccines are undergoing clinical trials to determine if they are effective and safe.
“The way the federal government has handled the vaccine, there are now serious questions about whether or not the vaccine is become politicized,” Cuomo said. “There’s been tremendous reporting on that and the people of this country don’t trust this federal government with this vaccine process.”
The rush toward a vaccine that would normally undergo years of testing for any significant side effects has raised its own questions. Polls have shown more than half of the New Yorkers have some degree of skepticism, and Cuomo echoed that.
“The first question is, is the vaccine safe? Frankly, I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion, and I wouldn’t recommend to New Yorkers based on the federal government’s opinion,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo is hoping a state review involving leading health experts can reassure the 54 percent of New Yorkers that polls say are skeptical.
“We’re going to put together our own review committee headed by the Department of Health that will advise me — we have the best hospitals and research facilities on the globe in this state,” he said. “We’re going to put together a group for them to review the vaccine so I can look at the camera and I can say to New Yorkers that it’s safe to take. I want to make sure that we know it’s safe to take.”
The vaccines under development are expected to require recipients to receive two shots, spaced several weeks apart. Cuomo noted that if all 19.5 million New Yorkers are to be vaccinated, it will require nearly 40 million vaccine doses. The vaccine may require storage at a minus-80 degrees C. until shortly before it is administered. Inoculating the population will be a massive and expensive undertaking, he said — and the job will probably fall to the state.
“You’re going to have issues of public confidence, whether or not the vaccine is safe,” he said. “We’re not sure what the federal government’s role is going to be. I don’t think the federal government understands what its role is going to be. It’s going to be a monumental undertaking in any event.”
The work of the task force will include prioritizing who gets vaccine based on clinical guidance, setting up a distribution network, establishing the IT infrastructure for scheduling appointments and tracking doses, a public education campaign, and securing whatever supplies and equipment are needed.
The 16-member task force to plan the vaccine rollout includes administrative officials and public health and health care organization representatives. Members include state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, state Budget Director Robert Mujica, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, Rajiv Rao, the state’s chief technology officer, and Patrick Murphy, state director of emergency preparedness.
Also Thursday, Cuomo announced he and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have jointly urged Congress to launch an investigation into the Trump administration’s COVID response, based on recent reports about federal officials seeking to minimize the virus, failing to distribute masks to all Americans by mail, and the reporting in journalist Bob Woodard’s new book that Trump knew the virus was fast-spreading and deadly as long ago as February.
“Congress must immediately conduct an oversight investigation into the Trump administration’s response to this pandemic, including the actions at (Health and Human Services) and the (U.S. Postal Service) the public learned about over the past week,” the governors said in a joint statement. “Especially in light of Bob Woodward’s reporting, the question of, ‘What did they know and when did they know it?’ cannot be left to the history books to answer. Our future health and economic security depends on holding the Trump administration accountable today.”
With members of Congress preoccupied with the oncoming election, the new federal budget and calls for economic relief for individuals, businesses and state and local governments hard-hit by the way the virus has devastated the economy, there has been no formal discussion within Congress about conducting such an investigation.