Cuomo: Vaccine distribution will be ‘greatest governmental undertaking’ since start of pandemic

New York News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As of Tuesday, Western New York still had the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the whole state at 7.2%. Overall, the state’s positivity rate was 4.96%, microcluster zones included. For those zones only, it’s 6.2%.

On Monday, 66 New Yorkers died as a result of the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday morning. As of that day, 3,774 people were hospitalized.

The statistics of COVID-19 aren’t expected to slow down before the year is over. Amidst the holiday season, Gov. Cuomo predicts that numbers will keep going up as long as people are gathering together.

Come mid-January, he believes New York will see a stabilization in the numbers since the major holidays will be over. The governor says the vaccination process will be “the greatest governmental undertaking” since the start of the pandemic, noting it will be an expensive process that hasn’t received nearly enough federal help.

Although a vaccine is expected to be released in the coming weeks, it will be months before it’s available to the critical masses. The state’s vaccine distribution plan will be based on fairness, equity, and safety, Cuomo says.

According to Cuomo, the death rate due to COVID-19 has been twice as high in predominantly Black communities. The governor says he wants to make sure minority communities receive the vaccine fairly.

An obstacle that the governor sees is related to data sharing between states and federal government. According to a vaccination process outlined by the federal government, states would have to sign a data-sharing agreement.

In that agreement, states would have to tell the federal government who has been vaccinated. States would identify recipients using social security, driver’s license or passport numbers — all items which can indicate citizenship.

Cuomo says this could lead to information about undocumented immigrants reaching Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Because of this, Cuomo believes it may be tougher to get people who are in the U.S. illegally vaccinated.

Here is the text of a letter Cuomo sent to Department for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar:

December 1, 2020

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to bring attention to a very important issue concerning the upcoming vaccination process. 

Obviously, a successful program administering the vaccine is critical to the national health.  But for the vaccination program to be successful, it must have the full participation of all the American people.  To that end, we join with Governor Cuomo in raising concerns about the fairness and effectiveness of the current federal vaccination program. 

First, we are deeply troubled by the failure of the federal vaccination program to provide the states with adequate funding to undertake effective vaccination plans for the Black, Brown, Asian and lower-income communities that are too often underserved by private healthcare facilities.  The COVID infection and death rates are significantly higher in these communities, and failure to provide these communities with an adequate vaccination program, whether by intent or effect, will further discriminate against these communities.  We join with national civil rights groups such as the National Urban League and the NAACP in calling for a federally funded fair and equal vaccination program.

Second, the federal government requires that a Data Sharing Agreement be executed by state governments before commencing the vaccination program.  The current Data Sharing Agreement provided by the federal government requires identification of each person who is vaccinated – the federal government suggests that states use Social Security numbers, driver’s license identification numbers, or passport numbers to fulfill this requirement. 

This provision obviously raises concerns, as the proposed criteria are all proxies for proof of citizenship.  The concern is exacerbated by an additional federal provision in the Data Sharing Agreement specifically providing that the information could be shared with other federal agencies, i.e. The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  If undocumented Americans are dissuaded from participating in the vaccination program, it would jeopardize both their health and the efficacy of the entire vaccination program. 

New York State has proposed two clarifications or modifications to address the issue.  First, New York will provide an identification system to effectively track vaccinated individuals and the required dosages that does not identify to the Federal government an individual’s Social Security number, passport number, or driver’s license number.  The state will provide aggregate data.  In addition, the Federal government must agree to keep vaccination identification information private as with any other health matter, and agree not to share it with any non-health agency for any other purpose.

It is in everyone’s interest for all of us to work together to encourage our respective constituents to participate in the vaccination program.  Outreach efforts to Black, Brown, Asian and low-income communities is essential.  Further, it is certainly not in the national interest for individuals to have valid concerns preventing such participation, and the undocumented community has specific and valid cause for concern in providing unnecessary, irrelevant, and sensitive information to federal agencies. 

We look forward to working together to organize a fast and effective vaccine program to ensure the national health.  Thank you for your consideration, cooperation, and courtesy.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo


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