A flicker of imminent relief for thousands of NYPD and city correction officers in the form of coronavirus vaccinations was rapidly extinguished following yet another apparent miscommunication between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo.
Not long after the Mayor said Jan. 6 that the state had “fully approved” a large category of “high-priority” workers, including upward of 25,000 city police officers and some corrections staff, for a first set of shots, the Governor said that only those officers who were also Emergency Medical Technicians were eligible for inoculations.
'Good News' Dissipates
During his customary morning press conference Wednesday, Mr. de Blasio called the state’s apparent OK for police and other essential personnel to get an initial shot “very good news.”
“The goal is to vaccinate 10,000 NYPD personnel by Sunday,” he continued. “That includes many of our patrol officers and officers who respond to 911 calls.”
The state, he said, had issued approved the city vaccination plans the day before. Correctional and other city workers would also be eligible beginning immediately, the Mayor said.
“We're also going to intensely work to get our correction officers vaccinated...starting today and throughout the week,” he said.
About an hour later, however, Mr. Cuomo essentially vetoed what the Mayor had so confidently outlined.
'Only Health-Care Staff'
“The only people eligible now are health-care workers,” the Governor said during his own briefing. Only police officers who held certifications as EMTs could be inoculated as of Jan. 6, he said.
“Police who are not health-care workers are not yet eligible. We need to get the health-care population done first because they are the front line,” the Governor said.
For now, just doctors, nurses and other health-care workers are eligible for the 950,000 dosages of vaccine the state had so far received from the Federal Government. He said that there were more than twice that many workers in that first-priority tier, known as 1a.
As of Jan. 4, those in that tier include high-risk hospital workers; nursing-home residents and staff; intake and front-line staff who have direct contact with patients; EMS workers, coroners and medical examiners; dentists; psychiatrists, psychologists, physical therapists, pharmacists and optometrists; home-care and hospice workers; urgent-care providers; and those administering COVID-19 vaccines.
COs Must Wait
“We are currently in the midst of a comprehensive approach to vaccinating all eligible populations. Corrections officers will be able to be vaccinated at community sites or other locations when they are eligible. As Governor Cuomo has repeatedly said, right now, we are focused on the population in Phase 1a,” state Department of Health spokesman Jonah Bruno said in a statement.
While Mr. Cuomo called them essential workers, he said police officers and fire and corrections personnel were in the next tier, 1b, which he said comprises about 5 million essential workers, among them 207,000 first-responders, including uniformed fire and police personnel.
“But 1b is not yet open and that’s state law and it governs every city in this state,” he said, in what could have been construed as a rebuke of Mr. de Blasio, with whom he has wrestled throughout the seven years their terms have overlapped.
The FDNY began vaccinating its EMS members Dec. 23 and, despite Mr. Cuomo’s edict, its firefighters on Dec. 29. It is unclear why the city’s firefighters have been able to receive the vaccine when they, like police officers, are included in the 1b tier.
The president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, Paul DiGiacomo, ripped the Governor’s stance.
"Governor Cuomo, once again, canceled any COVID vaccine rollout to the NYPD. Apparently Cuomo does not feel New York City’s police force is important enough to get virus protection," he said in a statement.
Unions Had Been Thankful
The Mayor’s announcement had brought rare praise from the leaders of the Police Benevolent Association and the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, two men habitually antagonistic to Mr. de Blasio, with the correction union’s Benny Boscio saying, “COBA has vigorously lobbied City Hall to make COVID-19 vaccinations available to our officers who wish to be vaccinated, and we welcome today’s news from Mayor de Blasio that the city plans to do just that.”
And while he did not mention the Mayor, the PBA’s Patrick J. Lynch also sounded a hopeful note on hearing the priority timeline outlined by Mr. de Blasio.
“This is an important step towards clearing away the red tape and protecting both police officers and the New Yorkers we help every single day,” he said in a statement. “This pandemic has only strengthened the bond between cops, EMTs, hospital staff, firefighters and all of the members of our ‘front-line family.’ When we respond together to emergency scenes or hospital wards, we need to have the same vaccine protection.”
Nearly 20 percent of the NYPD's uniformed workforce was laid up by the virus during the spring wave.
Spokesmen for Mr. Boscio and Mr. Lynch did not reply to requests for comment following the Governor’s subsequent remarks.
The Police Department did not respond to queries about the number of officers with EMT or EMS certification who might yet be eligible for inoculation, and whether some had received them by the close of Jan. 6.
The NYPD had been expected to begin vaccinating officers by the end of December. That timeline has now extended by more than a week as the vaccine’s roll-out in New York City, as in the rest of the nation, falls significantly short of both expected and hoped-for reach.