Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced long-awaited news: Nursing home residents and staff will be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available later this month.
But now comes the hard part: Convincing millions of New Yorkers to take the shot, plus a booster several weeks later to finally stamp out the coronavirus and bring an end to the pandemic.
Cuomo on Wednesday estimated it would cost $1 billion in New York to run an effective COVID vaccine distribution plan and he is seeking federal support to do so from the incoming Biden administration.
The first 170,000 doses will be arriving in New York on Dec. 15, earmarked first for nursing home facilities and then frontline health care workers. Nursing homes have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, with thousands of residents dying since March.
The vaccine will also be a boon to the communities that host nursing homes, said New York Health Facilities Association President and CEO Stephen Hanse.
"I think it will go a long, long way of course safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our long-term care residents, but really it's going to have a direct impact on our communities and the prevalence of COVID in New York," he said.
Vaccine distribution is expected to take several months to reach all residents and staff in New York. Hanse, whose group represents nursing homes statewide, estimated it will take through the first quarter of 2021 to reach a critical mass of vaccine distribution in the facilities.
State Sen. Sue Serino says protections for residents are needed now as COVID cases surge once again in New York, including so-called step down facilities to halt the spread of COVID in nursing homes.
"I think that's a step in the right direction, but along with that we need to have these step down facilities in place," she said. "We saw what happened in the spring time when the hospitals were overwhelmed. That's what forced the residents back to their facilities and we know that can't happen again."
Many of the essential workers who will receive the COVID vaccine first are immigrants. Anu Joshi of the New York Immigration Coalition says health officials need to focus on immigrant communities when promoting the safety of the vaccine.
"It's going to be more critical than ever the state and federal government have a more robust plan. Part of that is ensuring information is available in all languages," she said.
And there are concerns Cuomo has raised over protecting the identity of undocumented immigrants. The governor this week wrote to the Trump administration, congressional leaders and President-elect Joe Biden over his opposition to using personal identification numbers like Social Security as part of a vaccine distribution plan.
All this will have to be part of a sweeping public education campaign for the COVID vaccine that has not been seen in generations in the United States in its scope.
"It's going to be more important than ever that people will feel their information is protected, their data will be secure, their privacy will be kept," Joshi said. "And so having those strict guidelines around how information will be used is incredibly important to building public trust."