If you live in Florida or Texas and you're 65 or over, you can get in line for a COVID-19 vaccine at a mall, stadium or drive-thru center. You may have to wait for hours, but being in line is better than being in the dark. That's where most New Yorkers are — desperate to get the vaccine and with no way to sign up. It may be months before they can. It's a problem in many other states, too.
The first vaccines were shipped to the states on Dec. 13, but most are sitting on shelves unused, while some 2,600 people a day die from COVID-19 nationwide. State and local officials — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio in New York — are showing a depraved indifference to human life as they play politics over who gets vaccine priority.
It's time for the public to demand that these officials open up mass vaccination centers and get the lifesaving shots into our arms.
De Blasio is boasting that 1 million city residents will be vaccinated by the end of January. But as of Monday, a handful of sites have been opened for health care workers only.
The mayor says he plans to send an email to city employees asking them to volunteer to administer the vaccines. With deaths mounting and ICU beds filling, more is needed. De Blasio should be asking Cuomo to call in the National Guard to set up and operate vaccination sites. West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland are already using the Guard and turning armories into vaccine clinics. State and local officials should be treating vaccination like a D-Day invasion in the war against the virus.
Or they could follow the example of New York's response to the challenge of smallpox in 1947. With no warning, smallpox — a deadly disease thought to have been eradicated — was brought to New York by a sick traveler. All it takes to spread smallpox is a cough, sneeze or touch — just like COVID-19. Back then, the city health department swung into action and vaccinated over 6 million residents in one month. First come, first serve. And it worked. Only two New Yorkers died.
Compare that with thousands expected to die in the coming months while waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine.
De Blasio says the city would be moving faster if the state would loosen regulations on who can receive the vaccine. He's got a point. Right now, the state is limiting the vaccine to health care workers and long-term care residents, and next in line will be "essential workers" — mostly from unions — and people over 75. That means seniors ages 65 to 74 and adults with critical health problems will wait several months.
The Cuomo administration is adamant about that schedule, even though two-thirds of vaccines are unused.
That's a mistake. States doling out vaccines in tiny increments are letting people die needlessly and delaying herd immunity, when enough people can be vaccinated to stop the virus.
The invasion of a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 is another reason to vaccinate widely, advises former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. It's likely to become the dominant strain, increasing everyone's risk. He advises "moving more quickly into a general vaccination program" for people 65 and up.
Will Cuomo listen? He's shown a callous lack of interest. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested a vaccine rollout plan, New York sent in 83 pages of blather. No specifics on where the shots will be given and who would administer them when hospital staff is already stretched. No real plan, yet we've known for months the vaccines were coming.
But when the Buffalo Bills made it to the playoffs, Cuomo jumped into action, charging the state health department to come up with a precision plan to open the stadium at limited capacity. Meanwhile, next Saturday, when the Bills play, another 150 New Yorkers will likely lose their lives to COVID-19.
New Yorkers should be screaming bloody murder about the vaccination delay. Because that's what it is.
So should Americans in many other states. The problem threatening lives is not a shortage of vaccines. It is a shortage of urgency and commitment on the part of state and local officials. When California Gov. Gavin Newsom was confronted with the embarrassing fact that a staggering 76% of vaccines are still unused in his state while Californians die every day from COVID-19, Newsom said we ought to be "humble" about what can be achieved. Nonsense.
The public does not need a lecture about being humble. They need action now. Their lives are at stake.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and author of "The Next Pandemic," available at Amazon.com. Contact her at [email protected]caughey.com or on Twitter @Betsy_McCaughey. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.