Whenever Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces that New York is loosening the criteria for the COVID-19 vaccine, I see people celebrating.
“I guess I’m glad to have turned 50 after all,” one friend remarked Monday, upon learning that New Yorkers age 50 and older will now be able to get vaccinated.
Allowing more people to get vaccinated is good politics.
It makes people happy and highlights the work being done to vanquish the virus that has caused so much suffering during the past year.
It also suggests that New York is doing such a great job vaccinating those most at risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19 that it can afford to give the vaccine to less vulnerable people.
Unfortunately, the data suggests New York is expanding vaccine eligibility to younger adults even as it struggles to vaccinate seniors, the population most in need of protection from the novel coronavirus.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61.2 percent of New York’s seniors – those 65 and up – have received one dose of the vaccine, while 33.1 percent are fully vaccinated.
That’s one of the worst percentages in the country, and well below the national average: 69.2 percent of the nation’s seniors have received one dose of the vaccine, and 42.5 percent are fully vaccinated.
Only three states – Alabama, Arkansas and Hawaii – have administered a lower percentage of first doses of the vaccine to seniors.
New York’s poor performance is especially baffling when you consider how well some states are doing.
In South Dakota, 81.9 percent of the state’s seniors have received a first dose. In Rhode Island, 80.9 percent. In New Hampshire, 80.4 percent.
Why, one might ask, isn’t New York leading the country in vaccinating seniors, given its robust public health system and world-class medical infrastructure?
Some might argue that vaccine distribution is more complicated in large, diverse states like New York, and that it isn’t especially surprising to see the state lag in its efforts to inoculate vulnerable seniors.
I would argue that New York’s vaccine distribution system has always favored able-bodied adults with technical know-how and the ability to travel to far-flung vaccine sites, and the Empire State’s embarrassingly low percentage of vaccinated seniors reflects this.
I don’t begrudge anyone who qualifies for getting the vaccine, but the push to expand eligibility when so many seniors have yet to be vaccinated is misguided.
If New York was really serious about preventing COVID deaths, it would be working overtime to get the vaccine to this at-risk population.
Instead, Cuomo seems intent on moving quickly to open the vaccination clinic doors to an ever-growing number of people, even as demand outstrips supply.
In recent weeks, counties have started hosting neighborhood-based vaccination clinics and delivering the vaccine to homebound residents, and these efforts should help boost the number of seniors getting vaccinated.
But the data suggests more needs to be done.
Too many seniors are still struggling to access the vaccine, even as they remain most likely to die if sickened by the virus.
The state can still fix this.
But only if it makes vaccinating seniors a priority – something it should have been doing all along.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.