New York City’s top health officials weren’t able to say how long it would take to vaccinate the roughly two million New Yorkers currently eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, citing state and federal logistical issues as barriers to a smooth rollout.
The testimony from top health officials, given Tuesday during a New York City Council hearing, comes as the federal government vows to ship more vaccine and broadens the group eligible for the vaccine to include people over age 65, and as the city rolls out more sites for vaccination, including a 24-hour hub at New York Mets’ Citi Field ballpark.
The city’s vaccination effort, now almost a month in, has been fraught with confusion as more of the general population becomes eligible for the vaccine. City council members said city residents and older New Yorkers, especially, are unable to easily navigate the online process for vaccine sign-up and sometimes wait hours to reach a person on a telephone hotline.
Older New Yorkers, including the homebound, don’t have a way to easily get the vaccine, council members said, and the city hasn’t made efforts to go to buildings and communities where there are large populations of older people and set up on-site vaccine centers. The accusations of a confusing process come despite months of planning at one of the biggest and best-funded public-health departments in the country.
“We’re in a friggin’ health crisis,” said Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents part of Manhattan. “I don’t see the sense of urgency. I don’t see management on high alert to these problems.”
New York City has set a goal to vaccinate one million New Yorkers by the end of January. To date, roughly 885,000 doses of the vaccine have been allocated to the city, with some 668,000 delivered to health-care providers and others. About 239,000 doses have been administered, including more than 23,000 second doses to health-care workers.
New York City Health Commissioner Dave A. Chokshi said at the hearing that city officials aren’t aware until only a few days in advance how much of the federal allocation of the vaccine will be shipped to the city, making planning difficult. The state’s limited parameters on who can receive the vaccine, he said, have also limited the pace of vaccination.
In general, said Dr. Chokshi, there are several thousand vaccine slots open each day, and as many as 5,000 to 10,000 next week at city-run sites. The city will add a dozen more vaccination hubs on Saturday, he said.
“The pace is picking up,” he said.
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would embrace the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new expanded recommendation of eligibility for the vaccine, from people age 75 and older to all people 65 and older and people who are immunocompromised, though the guidance didn’t clearly define the latter group.
The Democratic governor said he was frustrated by the changing guidelines and warned they could mean an even longer wait for New Yorkers who are trying to get vaccinated. Mr. Cuomo called on the federal government to take steps to increase the supply of vaccine as soon as possible.
“Everyone will be oversubscribed,” Mr. Cuomo said. He said seven million of the state’s 19.5 million residents would be eligible but estimated they wouldn’t be fully vaccinated for six months.
“Is that helpful? I don’t think so. I think that creates more frustration and more anxiety,” he said.
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Appeared in the January 13, 2021, print edition as ‘Vaccine Has Rough Rollout, Council Members Say.’