EDITORIAL: Release covid vaccine task force information

Mohawk Ambulance EMT Keenan Kodesch receives his Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Schenectady School District Nurse Manager and volunteer Holly Vacca last week.
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Mohawk Ambulance EMT Keenan Kodesch receives his Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Schenectady School District Nurse Manager and volunteer Holly Vacca last week.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a big show about casting doubt on the federal government’s ability to distribute and evaluate the safety of the new coronavirus vaccines.

But now that the vaccine is being rolled out, the governor’s office is refusing to release information from its own task force that reviewed the vaccines for safety and effectiveness.

The Empire Center for Public Policy, a state government watchdog group, filed a Freedom of Information Law request last month with the governor’s office seeking information about the Clinical Advisory Task Force’s meetings and reports.

According to Bill Hammond, the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, the center asked for a number of records related to task force activity.

That request included, according to Hammond: “the date, time and attendance for each task force meeting; minutes, recordings or transcripts of the proceedings; studies, research reports and data provided to task force members; and guidelines, instructions or recommendations to the task force from state officials.”

Given the urgency of this situation, it would seem that information from this task force would be very relevant.

Some questions: What exactly did the task force conclude about the vaccines? What research did it conduct to reach its determinations? What was discussed at its meetings and what issues were raised by task force members?

The public certainly has a right to know the answers to these basic questions.

If the state task force truly did its due diligence, then it should be eager to share its work.

Yet in its response to the Empire Center’s FOIL request, the state said it would need at least until mid-February to locate and prepare the documents and to “review them for applicable exemptions under FOIL.”

There’s absolutely no reason for it to take a month-and-a-half to provide this documentation.

Meeting records and minutes from meetings held last month should already be prepared and held in a single location. And any personal or proprietary information should already be redacted.

If the governor’s office doesn’t know where the task force’s reports are stored, why not? And if the task force didn’t create any report at all, as one might assume by these apparent stall tactics, then what did the task force actually do?

The public has entrusted the state with ensuring the covid vaccine is safe and effective. The state even set up its own task force, separate of the federal review, to make those assurances.

Now the state is keeping its review secret from the public?

If the state is going to form a task force and not release its findings, then why even bother having it in the first place?

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