New York will receive 170,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine in the coming weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to rise and state officials continue to carefully watch increasing hospitalizations.
Frontline health care workers and people who live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities are expected to be among those with the first priority in receiving the first batch of the vaccine manufactured by pharmaceutical company Pfizer. A second batch of vaccines will be provided by Moderna.
People living in nursing homes are expected to receive the first doses arriving in New York.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel on Tuesday outlined a similar prioritization plan for the first vaccination doses, which Cuomo on Wednesday said "reinforces" New York's plan.
State officials are preparing for a mass distribution of the double-dose vaccination as COVID cases are surging in the country and in New York statewide. The state's positive rate in the last day reached 4.63% and 69 people have died of COVID-19.
Hospitalizations have reached 3,924 people. Nearly every region has seen hospitalizations increase, more than doubling in western New York and the Mohawk Valley in the last three weeks, Cuomo said.
The governor's "biggest fear" is a strained hospital system that reaches a breaking point. Hospitalizations are now tied to the potential of closing non-essential businesses and further restrictions on mass gatherings.
Already, western New York hospitals are halting elective surgeries amid rising demand for beds. Field hospitals are also under consideration, with one being constructed on Staten Island in New York City.
Still, the vaccine distribution is a ray of hope even as it presents a new set of challenges. Cuomo is placing Larry Schwartz, a longtime advisor both in and out of government and a former top aide, to lead the effort.
It will take approximately 75% to 80% of the state's population to be vaccinated for the economy to return to a state of normalcy, and that could take as long as September of 2021.
Cuomo wants to ensure Black and Brown and poorer communities have access to the vaccine and plans a public education campaign on the effort.
"The good news is the vaccine is in sight," Cuomo said. "The more people who go into the hospital depends on us."