ALBANY — Hospitals across New York state have picked up the pace of their COVID vaccination efforts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
About 50,000 doses were administered Wednesday, up from about 30,000 each on Monday and Tuesday and an average of just 10,000 a day before Monday, he said. Thursday was on track to be well above 50,000.
The vaccination program has gotten off to a choppy start in New York and across the nation while the COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously and significantly worsens.
Cuomo said during a news conference Thursday that 430,000 doses have been administered out of the 900,000 the state has received. Because both vaccines are two-shot vaccines, nearly 39 million doses will be needed if all New Yorkers decide to get the shot.
A significant number of people don’t trust and don’t want the vaccine; 75% vaccination, which could provide herd immunity and stop the pandemic would require 30 million doses in New York.
“The supply is our issue,” Cuomo said.
New York is getting 300,000 doses per week, at which rate it would take two years to vaccinate 75% of New Yorkers. The hope and expectation is that vaccine production will increase, New York will get more, and the timeline will shorten.
Under the tiered approach laid out by the federal government, 2 million New York healthcare workers and nursing home residents statewide are getting top priority for the vaccine in Tier 1A. Nursing home residents face the greatest risk from infection, while healthcare workers pose the greatest risk of transmitting infection, Cuomo said.
Next up is Tier 1B, which totals about 3 million New Yorkers and includes anyone over 74 years old, police, firefighters, transit workers and teachers.
Cuomo on Thursday pushed back against the idea that Tier 1B should start getting shots now. It’s imperative to finish 1A before 1B, he said, because with thousands more New Yorkers getting infected every day, healthcare workers are the most vital people to protect.
He also rejected the idea being promoted by some local governments that police officers should be in Tier 1A because they sometimes provide CPR or other medical assistance.
“That’s just silly,” he said.
Nor, he said, will police be given priority or get to assert priority when Tier 1B vaccination starts.
“That just will not be allowed, period,” Cuomo said.
A reporter pressed the governor on the question of when the transition from 1A to 1B will occur.
It will happen, he said, when most health care workers who want a shot have received it, and only those who refuse the vaccine are left.
He gave no details on how that transition point would be rapidly recognized when it arrives — he said only that when a particular hospital can no longer use up its allocation of vaccine, the state will take back the vaccine and give it to another facility.
Albany Medical Center said Thursday it has vaccinated 12,500 people so far and the vaccines have been met with widespread appreciation by staff members. There is not, however, a formal process to decline the vaccine, so the hospital does not have a handle on how many employees don’t want the shot at all and how many just haven’t gotten it yet.
Likewise, Ellis Medicine in Schenectady knows which employees have had the vaccine injected into their shoulders and which have not, but it doesn’t know which among the “have nots” are “not evers.” Ellis is running an internal education program about the vaccine, but the shots are voluntary and the clinic is walk-in.
Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Tier 1A New Yorkers who don’t work for a hospital, and therefore wouldn’t be on any hospital’s checklist as it scrambled to meet Cuomo’s ultimatum: Use it or lose it.
Cuomo has said that because these vaccines received emergency FDA authorization rather than full traditional approval, it appears their use can’t be mandated.
State Department of Health spokesman Jonah Bruno said the DOH is continuing its community outreach to promote confidence in the vaccine in an effort to reach the highest vaccination rate possible. He noted that healthcare workers in Tier 1A who haven’t been vaccinated yet may be deferring to the future for any number of reasons, rather than refusing.
DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said Monday that there’s only anecdotal evidence from hospitals but nursing homes so far appear to be seeing 10% refusal from residents and 15% from staff.
The state is pushing healthcare workers hard to get the shot, he said.
Cuomo has said that he expects healthcare workers will refuse vaccination at a lower rate than the general public. On Thursday, he predicted 80 to 90% of doctors and 70 to 80% of nurses would choose to be vaccinated.
Some statewide COVID metrics improved Thursday.
Spikes or dips on a single given day are often just that, one-day changes, which is why the seven-day average is the preferred metric for tracking the pandemic.
But on Wednesday, the statewide positive test rate eased a full percentage point to 7.4%, while the number of people hospitalized dropped 1.4% to 8,548.
A sadder metric went the opposite direction: 197 COVID-related deaths were reported, one of the highest single-day death tolls in months.
Among those dead by the state’s tally were four Schenectady County residents; three Albany County residents; and one resident each of Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Washington counties.
Other COVID metrics:
- On the seven-day average, the Capital Region’s positive test rate is 10%, third highest among the state’s ten regions; ICU hospital bed availability is lowest in the state, but rate of new hospitalizations also is among the lowest.
- The Mohawk Valley’s seven-day positive test rate is highest among the regions at 10.4%.
- Some 489 COVID patients were hospitalized in the Capital Region and 308 in the Mohawk Valley Region.
- Albany County reported 163 residents hospitalized for COVID, a new high; Schenectady County said Ellis Hospital, the only hospital in the county, had 79 COVID-positive patients.
- Seven-day positive test rates for area counties were: Albany 10.2%, Fulton 8.4%, Montgomery 12.4%, Rensselaer 10.9%, Saratoga 10.9%, Schenectady 10.4%, Schoharie 10.0%.