Scramble for coronavirus vaccines, eligibility expansion continues to grow on L.I.

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Nassau County Presiding Office Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) (left) criticized state officials for a lack of adequate vaccine doses for the county and all of Long Island. (Photo courtesy of the legislative majority)

Expanded eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine throughout New York began on Sunday, but Long Islanders continue to scramble for inoculations and elected officials continue their pleas to the state for an increase in doses.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned New Yorkers that the demand for appointments would be high last week. On Tuesday, Cuomo said that nearly 10,000 appointments were made per hour on Sunday, beginning as early as 8 a.m.

“The State’s vaccination program is failing and as more individuals become eligible, it’s creating an even bigger risk to our most vulnerable citizens,” Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said. “With limited supplies and a mad scramble among millions of New Yorkers trying to obtain an appointment dealing with shifting rules, overloaded websites and interminable waits on the phone, the current system is simply not working and it’s time to make a change.”

Nassau County legislators underscored two prominent issues for county residents, the lack of help seniors have received from the state’s website and officials to make inoculation appointments and the lack of adequate vaccine doses and centers for Long Island residents.

Nicolello criticized state officials for what he called a lack of adequate distribution of vaccine doses and New York City officials for their inoculation efforts with more vaccines distributed to them than any region throughout the state.

“It is outrageous that New York City’s incompetent leaders and selfish policies have allowed the desperately needed vaccine to go to waste,” Nicolello said on Facebook. “There are so many of our most vulnerable population, including seniors and those with underlying health conditions, who cannot obtain the vaccine.”

As of Wednesday, New York City had received more than 1.5 million first and second doses of the vaccines and administered just under 1.3 million, or 85 percent.  Long Island had received 418,005 vaccine doses and administered 372,856, or 89 percent of them, according to state figures.

Cuomo announced last week that New Yorkers with underlying health conditions were allowed to make appointments at state-run mass vaccination sites as early as Sunday, with inoculations beginning on Monday.  Underlying health conditions Cuomo mentioned include cancer, kidney disease, pulmonary disease, liver disease, type 1 or 2 diabetes, intellectual or developmental disabilities, pregnancy and others.

Cuomo expanded the eligibility list for the coronavirus vaccine in New York to taxi drivers, restaurant workers and residents in facilities for those with disabilities two weeks ago.  He announced in late January that the vaccinations provided to the state would increase by 20 percent for the next three weeks. Private pharmacies, he said, would receive an additional 10 percent, or roughly 30,000 more doses, from the federal government.

A spokesperson for Cuomo said that the state’s singular goal remains getting as many vaccines into the arms of New Yorkers as quickly and effectively as possible.

“We have followed the federal government’s expanded eligibility recommendations and have the capacity to do far more than the supply allocated to us by the Trump administration,” the spokesperson said. “Fortunately, the Biden administration has already demonstrated they are in line with our goal to get shots in the arms of New Yorkers as quickly and safely as possible. We look forward to administering increased vaccinations with increased supply.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county will explore additional partnerships to increase the county’s vaccination operation and will prioritize vaccinating residents with underlying health conditions and vulnerable populations of eligible residents.

“We have not wasted one dose at our Nassau County Department of Health vaccination centers and we will continue to swiftly use 100% of the doses we receive,” Curran said in a statement Sunday. “The County’s IT team is working on a streamlined registration system that will help people not only register for a vaccination but also be put on a wait list for the next available appointment, to alleviate the hassle of going on a wild goose chase for a vaccine.”

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