ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will soon be expanding to accommodate those living with comorbidities and underlying conditions.
During Friday's news conference, the governor announced the state is giving hospitals one more week to vaccinate its workers. After that, the state will reallocate remaining doses to local health departments. Those doses will then be used to vaccinate people with comorbidities. Research shows people with preexisting conditions are more susceptible to suffering severe, potentially fatal symptoms of COVID-19.
This stage of vaccine distribution is set to begin on Monday, February 15.
"We're committed to vaccinating vulnerable populations that have suffered the most as we distribute a strictly limited supply of vaccines, and people with comorbidities are 94 percent of the state's COVID deaths," Cuomo said. "That's why we'll open eligibility to people with comorbidities starting February 15 and give hospitals the ability to use extra doses they have to address that population. Local governments have a week to prepare for the new change—they need to get ready now."
Laurie Drzyzga of Buffalo has cancer and COPD. She's waited to sign-up for the COVID-19 vaccine since the state announced three weeks ago that it would be adopting federal guidance to expand eligibility to immunocompromised people.
“I’m hoping so bad I get this, I am just so so excited,” Drzyzga said.
Cuomo said 94% of people who died from COVID-19 had comorbidities or underlying conditions.
“You’re body has no system to fight it," Drzyzga said. "So I really thought he would’ve had us up there earlier, but I’m just glad I’m finally in the categories to get it.”
Drzyzga still has some questions.
“How are you going to have to prove that you have one of these underlying conditions, 'cause anybody can say they have one of them," Drzyzga said. "Are you gonna have to have some type of a doctor’s note."
7 Eyewitness News asked the state whether proof of underlying conditions will be needed, and if New Yorkers should start reaching out to their doctors. The NYS Dept. of Health would only say more details are coming.
Two weeks ago, GiGi's Playouse Executive Director Emily Mondschein signed on to a letter asking that people with intellectual and developemntal disabilities be prioritized on the elibiliy list.
“I’m really grateful and glad that the concerns of our community have been heard,” Mondschein said.
She said COVID-19 is leading to regression, anxiety, and loss of social skills in many with Down syndrome, and hopes the issues can now be addressed once more people are vaccinated.
“It was scary because it felt like the protection wasn’t gonna come, and that they were kind of down, down at the end of the line, but now they can really get back to a normal, a sense of normalcy,” Mondschein said.
The Erie County Department of Health said it works with the Office for People with Disabilities and non-profits to make PODs accessible and comfotable for all residents, and plans for accessibility for individuals with disabilities when setting up PODs.
"For physical disabilities, when staff and volunteers see individuals with assistive devices in line, we make immediate accommodations and minimize the distance they have to walk, if that is their wish," said ECDOH Public Information Officer Kara Kane. "We also have protocols for individuals with hearing/speech or visual impairments."
The county has run "closed PODs" for individuals with disabilities living in congregate settings.
"For those, we reduced the “throughput” of patients to provide more time to spend with each patient; allowed staff or family to assist with the process; and took extra measures to provide activities while those patients were in the post-vaccination waiting area," said Kane. "We have also gone to third-party sites that individuals from OPWDD and DDSO facilities were familiar with to vaccinate."
Before the state defined its list, Cuomo said 4 million New Yorkers could be eligible under the immunocompromised category.
The state's list has several of the same conditions on this list from the CDC.