New York’s Covid-19 Vaccinations Hindered by Missteps, Misinformation

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At Mount Sinai Morningside in Manhattan, an older, wheelchair-bound woman arrived Thursday to find that her Covid-19 vaccination appointment had been purged from the reservation system. Her son was told that her appointment was canceled because there wasn’t enough vaccine.

The state said Thursday evening a scheduling link allowing New Yorkers to sign up for Covid-19 vaccines at several yet-to-open state-run locations was shared without authorization and was fraud. Those appointments have been voided, the state said.

As the Covid-19 vaccine becomes increasingly more available to the general public, missteps and frustrations among the public are increasing, too. Vaccinating New Yorkers, a vital component in the fight to end the coronavirus pandemic, was always going to be a huge logistical challenge.

Now, state and local officials say that the number of doses coming to the state is decreasing, just as the number of people eligible to be vaccinated has increased dramatically.

New York City will run out of its supply of vaccines by next week if the federal government doesn’t change its distribution, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday during a radio interview.

New York state won’t receive its normal federal distribution of 300,000 doses next week and instead will receive 250,000 initial doses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. After the federal government expanded its eligibility criteria to include people aged 65 and older, there are now about 7.1 million New Yorkers eligible to get the vaccine, he said.

“That’s the mathematical problem the federal government created,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding that the federal government didn’t do anything to increase the supply. “They had the supply they had and that was it,” he said.

The public was expecting and promised a rollout that would have vaccine going from the manufacturer to an injection site, said Arthur L. Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine in Manhattan. States, including New York, seemed to be unprepared and unable to quite figure out how to distribute the vaccine, he said.

“I think in the middle of a rampaging plague that seems to threaten to get worse because of new viral strains that are capable of more rapid transmission, we continue at the state and federal level to be utterly inept in responding to Covid,” said Dr. Caplan. “If we’re supposed to use vaccines to work our way out, we don’t have nearly enough doses for our high-risk populations. That is just a gross failure of leadership.”

In New York City, the slow rollout has been complicated by a sprawling patchwork of providers with systems that don’t communicate with each other, said City Council member Mark Levine, a Democrat, who represents parts of Manhattan and is chair of the council’s committee on health.

And with an almost-overnight major expansion of who is eligible for vaccination, every hospital system is now overwhelmed with demand, he said.

“Then there’s the supply problem!” Mr. Levine added. “It’s about to slap us in the face.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, Avery Cohen, said the city is doing its best to meet demand and ensure every dose of vaccine is used. The city has added four 24/7 sites in a week, with over 100 other sites across the city, a 24/7 call center and a portal, Ms. Cohen said.

“In the end, New York City’s vaccination pace has outstripped our federal allocation of doses,” she said.

New Yorkers eager for the Covid-19 vaccine, are navigating a maze of websites—state, county, city, hospital, clinic or another—for vaccine sign-ups. Some others have waited hours on the phone to make an appointment.

State mass-vaccination sites are booked for the next 14 weeks, Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor’s office said the state has received 1.1 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in the first four weeks of the vaccination rollout, and 730,000 doses have been administered. That figure includes long-term-care facility vaccination programs, which are run by the federal government.

Many locations across the state are still working through past allocations of vaccines received in prior weeks, Mr. Cuomo said. “Then they are going to be getting very little going forward compared to the need,” the Democrat said.

According to data from New York City’s health department, about 800,000 doses have been delivered to New York City in the past month, with about 337,000 so far administered. That data includes long-term-care facilities.

Mr. de Blasio said New York City has vaccinated 125,000 people this week and is on track to surpass its target of administering vaccines to 175,000 people this week.

On Monday, the city opened up a 24-hour vaccination site at Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park. Thursday afternoon, a message shared on social media—not from official city channels—sent a crush of people to the site for rumored last-minute walk-in appointments.

State guidance advises that all providers should have a daily list of “standby” eligible individuals to notify if appointments become available on short notice, with further guidance on special situations so that no vaccine is wasted.

Bill Neidhardt, press secretary for Mayor de Blasio, said on Twitter it was misinformation and there weren’t vaccines available for people without appointments.

Elsewhere, facilities are running short on vaccines. Mr. Levine said hospitals are getting far less vaccine than they have the capacity to deliver, right when they are able to figure out the logistical challenges of delivery, including opening new sites.

One top official for a New York hospital described the current problem as two parts: setting up the capacity to give the vaccine and having enough vaccine to give. The first has largely been solved by the hospitals, but the second part, this person said, has gotten increasingly difficult, coinciding with the opening of more mass-vaccination sites.

Earlier this week, the person said, there was a clear move away from hospitals getting the vaccine and diverted toward “who knows what.”

“From one day to the next, we have no idea what we’re going to get,” the person said. “There’s both an actual shortage and a complete absence of predictability.”

Mr. Cuomo on Friday described the problem facing all vaccination sites: “No one gets all they need.”

Mount Sinai Health System said in a statement that due to sudden changes in vaccine supply, the system has been forced to cancel existing public vaccination appointments from Friday, Jan. 15, through Tuesday, Jan. 19.

“We will inform our patients when more vaccine supplies become available and reopen vaccination appointments for eligible patients,” Mount Sinai said.

A spokeswoman for NYU Langone Health said the system doesn’t know if it is getting any Covid-19 doses next week and, for that reason, isn’t as of Thursday night scheduling any new vaccination appointments.

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