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NY To Allow People With Underlying Conditions To Get Vaccinated

A COVID-19 vaccination site at the University at Albany
Jesse King
A COVID-19 vaccination site at the University at Albany

Governor Andrew Cuomo is expanding the list of New Yorkers who will be eligible to receive vaccinations.  He says on February 15 people with co-morbidities, as defined by the CDC, will be able to sign up for appointments. The governor also says that African-Americans and Latinos are getting vaccinated at a lower rate than whites or Asians, and he wants to correct that.

Cuomo says now that three quarters of all health care workers have received a vaccination, he will open up the list of those eligible to New Yorkers with comorbidities that the CDC says put people at an increased risk of severe illness or death from the virus. They include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart conditions, Type 1 and 2 diabetes, people with intellectual and development disabilities, and those who have had organ transplants, or who have severe obesity.  

The full list:

·         Cancer (current or in remission, including 9/11-related cancers)

·         Chronic kidney disease

·         Pulmonary Disease, including but not limited to, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate-to-severe), pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and 9/11 related pulmonary diseases

·         Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities including Down Syndrome

·         Heart conditions, including but not limited to heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, or hypertension (high blood pressure)

·         Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) including but not limited to solid organ transplant or from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, use of other immune weakening medicines, or other causes

·         Severe Obesity (BMI 40 kg/m2), Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)

·         Pregnancy

·         Sickle cell disease or Thalassemia

·         Type 1 or 2 diabetes mellitus 

·         Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)

·         Neurologic conditions including but not limited to Alzheimer's Disease or dementia

·         Liver disease

Several categories of essential workers, including police firefighters, and teachers and New Yorkers over the age of 65 are already eligible for the vaccine. 

“Comorbidities and age are the major factors in COVID mortality,” said Cuomo, who said 94% of the people who have died from COVID-19 had underlying conditions. 

Cuomo says for now only county health departments will administer vaccines for those with underlying conditions. They won’t be available at several large state run sites.

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, wrote a letter to Cuomo earlier this week, along with two of her Assembly colleagues, asking for those with comorbidities to be included.

Fahy says the governor’s decision is a positive step, but has come very late. She says the CDC authorized those with underlying conditions to become eligible for vaccines at the same time that those 65 and older qualified, on January 12. Fahy says she was struck by the statistics released by Cuomo showing 94% of those who died of the virus had comorbidities.  

“That is the exact population that has been so severely impacted, that’s where the deaths are coming from,” said Fahy. “We shouldn’t have been waiting a month, when we did the 65-year-olds overnight.” 

Fahy says she knows there is a chronic vaccine shortage in New York and the nation, with the state getting just 300,000 doses a week from the federal government to vaccinate the seven million or so adults already eligible. But she says other states allow people to pre-register with their state or local government, and then be contacted later when a vaccine is ready for them. In New York, it’s up to individuals to compete with one another to gain appointments, often spending hours on the computer dealing with websites that frequently crash.  

“This is the worst hunger games situation I have probably ever seen in my public life,” she said.

Cuomo also released demographic data from vaccination sites that show African-American and Latino New Yorkers are receiving the vaccine at a much lower rate than are white or Asian American people in the state. He attributes the discrepancy to a greater amount of vaccine hesitancy among those groups, as well as a lack of easy access.  

To try to correct that, Cuomo is partnering with New York City and the New York Yankees to open Yankee Stadium as a mass vaccination site. Only residents of the Bronx are eligible. Nearly half of the people in the borough are Hispanic and over one-third are Black.

Former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera appeared, virtually, with other team officials to promote the site.

“This is about saving lives,” Rivera said. “This is greater than baseball.” 

The governor also on Thursday expanded vaccine eligibility to another group, the 175 or so state prison inmates over age 65 will also be given vaccines. The decision came after a group filed a lawsuit demanding that the prisoners be vaccinated, since they qualify under CDC rules for groups living in congregate settings.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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