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Embattled state health commissioner Howard Zucker on Thursday shot down Mayor Bill de Blasio’s written request to use second-dose coronavirus vaccine reserves to give more New Yorkers their first doses — a rejection that came during a City Hall press briefing.
With the vaccine — which requires two doses administered a few weeks apart for maximum effectiveness — in short supply, de Blasio in recent weeks has beseeched Gov. Andrew Cuomo to authorize the use of stockpiled second doses as first doses, in order to afford at least some protection to as many people as possible.
Hizzoner on Thursday formalized that request in a letter to state leaders, and got his answer as he fielded reporters’ questions.
“I am in regular contact with the [federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], including as recently as this morning, on this topic when they affirmed their opposition to using second doses as first doses now,” wrote Zucker in an open letter addressed to de Blasio. “Governor Cuomo has already said that if the CDC does recommend using second doses for first doses he is ready, willing and able to administer a state-wide program that will do just that.”
Shifting responsibility for the call onto the feds, Zucker stressed that the CDC knows best with respect to future availability of vaccines and medical best practices.
“The CDC has information that we do not have,” he wrote. “The CDC has intimate knowledge of the future vaccine production schedule as it is federally controlled and their opinion is informed by national and international medical professionals researching the virus.”
Zucker — who is under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike in the wake of a damning state attorney general’s report on the Cuomo administration’s accounting of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and hospitals — also took his own shots at de Blasio’s proposal.
“Your suggestion that a ‘brief delay’ of people receiving second doses would be acceptable however it [sic] does raise a caution flag,” he wrote. “People have worked very hard to get a vaccination appointment and there is much public anxiety that second doses will not be available on their appointment date.”
Zucker additionally called into question de Blasio’s claim — which Hizzoner himself attributed to the CDC — that there is no issue with extending the period between one’s first and second vaccine doses by a few weeks.
“While the science on whether a ‘brief delay’ would impact full immunity is open and disputed, I do believe it would create undue anxiety to tell people who have scheduled appointments that those appointments are being shifted even for a ‘brief delay,’” he wrote, noting that “there is even a school of thought” that a lag between doses has given rise to viral variants of the coronavirus.
“As you know the vaccination process and supply has not instilled a high level of public confidence,” Zucker wrote. “Even postponing appointments due to the recent snow storm caused concern, I believe it is important that all scheduled appointments be honored.”
Informed of Zucker’s response during his daily press briefing, de Blasio refused to take ‘no’ for an answer, trying an emotional appeal.
“Talk to someone who has not yet had a first dose,” he said. “Talk to a grandmother who is waiting for any protection at all and can’t get it. Talk to family members who are scared to death for their elders, and it’s abundantly clear: It’s just not right to withhold second doses we could be using right now.
“The idea of turning away people who need help, who need to be protected, it makes no sense to me.”