- New York State is now offering COVID-19 vaccines to 3.2 million more elderly residents and essential workers as it ramps up its vaccine rollout.
- Previously, medical staff had to throw away spare doses because they didn't have enough people to vaccinate.
- Delivery staff and stock workers in pharmacies can now receive doses that are about to expire — previously, medical providers had to dispose of these doses if they couldn't find eligible candidates.
- Governor Andrew Cuomo said on January 4 that the state would fine hospitals who don't use up their vaccine doses quickly enough.
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New York State will now offer COVID-19 vaccines to a wider group of residents, after its previously strict eligibility guidelines meant medical providers were forced to throw out unused doses.
The state announced new guidelines on Friday and Saturday that expanded the eligible pool to more elderly residents and essential workers, as well as more healthcare staff. In total, 3.2 million more people are now able to get a shot.
On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the vaccine would be offered to a bigger group of essential workers including teachers, public transit workers, and first responders such as police and fire service employees.
The next day, state health authorities issued guidance saying medical center employees who interact with the public, including pharmacy store clerks, cashiers, stock workers, and delivery staff, can also get the shot, but only if there are extra doses in a vial, and only if no higher priority residents would be able to get to the center before the doses expire.
"This exception is ONLY for the purpose of ensuring vaccine is not wasted," the health department said.
This followed the news that medical providers have had to dispose of COVID-19 vaccine doses because they couldn't find eligible candidates to give the shots to.
Dr. Neil Calman, president of the Institute for Family Health, told The New York Times that the Family Health Center of Harlem had to throw away doses after patients didn't show up to their appointments. The city's health department had said the clinic could only give the shots to eligible groups.
State authorities have investigated healthcare providers that may have violated its vaccination plans. This includes the ParCare Community Health Network in New York City, which authorities say may have ignored the state's vaccine prioritization guidelines.
Despite the previously strict criteria, hospitals in the state face a $100,000 fine if they don't use their COVID-19 vaccine doses quickly enough. Cuomo announced the policy on January 4, adding that some of the state's hospitals have used less than a fifth of their current doses.
"I don't want the vaccine in a fridge or a freezer - I want it in somebody's arm," Cuomo said at the time.
Senior officials from the White House coronavirus task force and Operation Warp Speed have reportedly been urging states to hand out excess doses of the coronavirus vaccine to anyone who wants it to ensure spare doses won't go to waste. As a result, people are randomly getting vaccinated at pharmacies because of extra doses that need to be used before they expire.
Earlier this month, US pharmacists discovered they could extract an extra dose or two from each vial of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, meaning they may have more available doses than expected.
On Friday, Cuomo signed an executive order allowing a bigger group of medical professionals to administer vaccines in New York State. This includes licensed practical nurses, pharmacists, midwives, dentists and dental hygienists, and students in certain medical education programs.
The state has so far administered more than 430,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses after being allocated just over 1.2 million doses.
On Sunday, the state reported 15,355 new positive cases and 151 fatalities, bringing its total to 31,672 deaths over the course of the pandemic. Over the weekend, the state's health department confirmed three new cases of B.1.1.7, the more contagious variant of the virus. In total, four cases of the variant have been confirmed in the state.