New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday blamed the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout on local leaders, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and threatened to fine hospitals that don’t distribute vaccines fast enough up to $100,000.
“We need the public officials to manage those public hospitals,” Cuomo said, noting that vaccine distribution points like New York City's Health and Hospitals system have been slow to administer vaccines.
“I don’t want the vaccine in a fridge or a freezer, I want it in somebody’s arm,” Cuomo said during an Albany press briefing. “If you’re not performing this function, it does raise questions about the operating efficiency of the hospital.”
According to Cuomo, New York State’s 194 hospitals have received 46% of their vaccine allocation. Figures by the US Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) also show that New York has received an allocation of 895,925 vaccines and has administered first doses to only 274,713 people - meaning roughly 30% of available doses have been given out.
“I need those public officials to step in and manage those systems. You have the allocation; we want it in people’s arms as soon as possible,” he added.
“I need them to take personal responsibility for their hospitals. This is a management issue of the hospitals. They have to move the vaccine, and they have to move the vaccine faster,” Cuomo continued.
When asked whether strict enforcement of vaccine prioritization has contributed to the slow rollout, Cuomo said that there is “no one cause” of delays.
“The federal government sent guidance on prioritization of who should receive the first vaccines. We agreed with the federal prioritization on the top priority... it's all health care workers who come in contact with the public ... because they're most likely to be infected,” Cuomo noted, adding that the only excuses he’s heard from hospitals regarding the delays are “bureaucracy and their own administration,”.
During the Monday briefing, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said that NYC Health and Hospitals hasn't done a good job of vaccinating its own employees despite having access to some 38,000 doses of the drugs, the New York Post reported. Out of the system’s 23,000 employees who are eligible to receive the vaccine, only 12,000 have been vaccinated, Zucker said.
To incentivize local distributors like Health and Hospitals to quickly distribute the vaccines, the state Department of Health on Sunday told distributors that they could face fines of up to $100,000 if they haven't used up their current vaccine stocks by the end of the week. In addition, from now on, providers must use all vaccines within seven days of receiving them or face additional fines and risk not receiving future vaccine shipments, the New York Post reported.
Also on Monday, Cuomo said he is proposing a law to make it a crime to sell or administer COVID-19 vaccines to people attempting to skip ahead in line.
So far, health care workers and those who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines.
The concern about vaccination rollout in the state has increased due to the identification of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 in the UK. Cuomo confirmed on Monday that a case of the new strain had been found in New York.