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Cuomo tells hospitals with vaccines: Use 'em or lose 'em 

click to enlarge Respiratory therapist Wondie Endeshaw, pictured awaiting his dose, was one of 10 employees at the University of Rochester Medical Center to receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020.

PHOTO COURTESY OF URMC

Respiratory therapist Wondie Endeshaw, pictured awaiting his dose, was one of 10 employees at the University of Rochester Medical Center to receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020.

Expressing what he termed "constructive impatience" with the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday threatened to withhold new doses from hospitals unless they speed up the inoculation process.

About 300,000 vaccinations have been administered in New York to front-line health care workers and some  nursing home residents and staff.

But that's fewer than half of the vaccines that began shipping to the state three weeks ago, and Cuomo said that's not good enough.

“I want to get needles in the arms,” Cuomo said. “And I want to get that done as quickly as possible.”

Administering the vaccination nationwide has been slow going. The delay appears most acute in nursing homes, Cuomo said, noting that just half of residents and a third of staff at homes in New York have received the vaccine.

New York state joined a federal plan that contracted with CVS and Walgreens to give out the vaccines. But the governor said the state will now send its own personnel into nursing homes to speed up the process, or let the nursing homes who have qualified staff do the vaccinations themselves. He hopes that 85 percent of residents can be vaccinated by the end of the week.

Hospitals are responsible for the initial round of vaccines for essential health care workers, but the success rate has been uneven. Some hospitals, like New York Presbyterian health care system, and smaller ones, including Adirondack Medical Center and Oswego Hospital, have already used up almost all of their vaccines.

New York City’s public hospital system has used just 31 percent of its allotted vaccine doses. And a number of larger hospital groups, including Northwell Health downstate and Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, have given out 62 percent of their allotments.

Cuomo said the underperforming hospitals will face sanctions, including a fine of up to $100,000 if they don’t use up all of the vaccine they have in store by the end of the week. They can also be disqualified for any future distribution of the vaccine.

“If your hospital doesn’t have the capacity, then just say that,” Cuomo said. “Which is fine, and then we’ll give it to a different hospital.”

The state’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, has sent a letter outlining the new rules. He said hospitals must act with a “sense of urgency” to save lives.

Cuomo last month said the major hospital in each region of the state would be responsible for distributing vaccines to the public once they become available. But he said based on the hospitals’ uneven performance so far, he’s rethinking that plan.

He said the state will set up vaccination distribution sites in convention centers and field hospitals, as well as drive-through sites.

Even as the vaccinations lag, Cuomo announced that more people will be eligible for doses; all health care workers now qualify to receive the vaccine.

The governor spoke on a day when the positivity rate for the virus statewide was at 8.3 percent, and the number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 has grown to over 8,000, the highest number since early May.

There were 170 deaths from the disease on Sunday, which Cuomo said is a “terrible way to start the new year.”

Karen DeWitt covers Albany for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.
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