ALBANY — The state will soon expand eligibility for the COVID vaccine to New Yorkers who have underlying health problems that make them more vulnerable to the virus.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that with 75% of hospital workers vaccinated as of Thursday, it’s time to end the regular allocation of vaccine doses to hospitals. Starting Feb. 15, the state will send those doses instead to local departments of health to administer to local residents with comorbidities; hospital workers who previously declined the shot or didn’t get it for other reasons still will have a chance, he added.
The announcement comes with a caveat: Eligibility won’t mean much to most people because there isn’t enough vaccine.
“We do not have a supply that can reach everyone,” Cuomo said during a news conference Friday. “We understand that, so the prioritization is to reach those people who are most at risk or most essential to this period of time.”
Most of those who die of the virus have one or more comorbidities, Cuomo said. Of the 35,920 known COVID deaths in New York through Thursday, 32,884 involved one or more complicating medical conditions.
The top five known comorbidities were hypertension (19,009 deaths), diabetes (12,186), hyperlipidemia (7,562), dementia (5,224) and coronary artery disease (3,926).
Cuomo said New Yorkers with the following conditions will be eligible for the vaccine Feb. 15:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Pulmonary disease
- Intellectual and developmental disabilities including Down syndrome
- Heart conditions
- Immunocompromised from any cause
- Obesity or severe obesity
- Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
- Type 1 or 2 diabetes mellitus
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurologic conditions
- Liver disease
With this move, Cuomo has significantly expanded the ranks of New Yorkers eligible for the vaccine, a massive group of people that had already vastly outnumbered the number of vaccine doses available.
Also Friday, the state began vaccinating some inmates in its prisons, a day after public defenders sued the state over its failure to offer vaccinations.
The state is using the same parameters as for the rest of the population, vaccinating those who are at least 65 years old or have a pre-existing medical condition. That’s exactly 1,075 inmates, according to a Cuomo aide, out of a statewide prison population of about 34,000.
Criticism came from both sides: New Yorkers United for Justice, a criminal justice reform group, slammed the move as “woefully inadequate.” State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, blasted the idea of prioritizing convicted felons over law-abiding citizens as “outrageous, shameful, and nonsensical.”
At a news conference Friday, a reporter asked Cuomo why all prison inmates were not being vaccinated — they live in a congregate setting, the worst-case scenario for COVID transmission. Residents of group homes, nursing homes, inpatient drug rehab facilities and other congregate settings have been prioritized for vaccination.
Cuomo sidestepped the question.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website indicates 5,227 inmates have been confirmed infected from last March through Friday.
With a statewide prison population of 34,446 as of December, that’s an infection rate of 15.2%, more than double the rate of infection outside prison walls — 7.46%.
But prison inmates have recovered at a much greater rate than non inmates.
Thirty-one of those inmates have died, which is 0.09% of all state prison inmates and 0.6% of infected inmates.
Statewide, 35,920 people have died of COVID, which is 0.2% of all New Yorkers and 2.5% of those infected.
Additionally, 4,417 prison employees have been confirmed infected with COVID and seven have died.