NYers 50+ Eligible for Vaccine March 23, New Hubs to Open at Places of Worship

250 New Yorkers roll up their sleeves to receive the Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine at a Northwell Health/New York State vaccination site at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt. (Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled on Monday a new program to help create vaccine hubs within houses of worship across the Empire State — but once again, no reporters were there to attend.

Cuomo also announced that all New Yorkers 50 and up will be eligible to receive the vaccine, and they can begin scheduling appointments tomorrow, March 23. Up till now, only New Yorkers 60 and older, or those with pre-existing conditions, were eligible for the vaccine along with essential workers.

During an appearance at one of the hubs, at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, Cuomo said the program would aim to not only provide connect more New Yorkers to the vaccine, but also instill greater trust in the doses with the endorsement and cooperation of faith communities around New York.

Called “Roll Up Your Sleeve,” Cuomo said the initiative would be “deploying a foundation of our society, the faith-based community,” into the battle against COVID-19. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques would be recruited into opening their doors to local health organizations and help administer the vaccine to those who need it.

Cuomo said the program would also help close the continued disparity in vaccine distribution. In the Mid-Hudson Valley, he noted, 86% of those vaccinated in the region are white, compared to just 8% of vaccinated residents who are Black, and 13% of vaccinated residents who are Hispanic.

“That discrepancy has to be remedied,” the governor said.

Moreover, the governor also expressed optimism with the news that AstraZeneca would seek emergency FDA approval for use of its COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been in use for weeks across Europe, though there have been reports of complications.

Nevertheless, Cuomo said the introduction of the AstraZeneca vaccine into the battle will ensure that “we will have enough vaccine” to quickly vaccinate all New Yorkers in the weeks and months ahead — and finally spur the start of the post-pandemic rebuilding phase for New York.

In attendance at Grace Baptist Church for the governor’s announcement were faith and community leaders in Mount Vernon, along with the city’s mayor, Shawyn Patterson-Howard; state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker; and Dr. Henry Munoz of the nonprofit SOMOS. Reverend Al Sharpton also participated via video.

Press shut out

The event was broadcast on the governor’s website, but reporters were not permitted to attend. The governor’s office said this was “due to COVID-19,” repeating the same reasoning offered at other recent public events from which reporters were barred.

As a matter of fact, just twice in the last 10 days has the governor taken questions from reporters — and during both occasions, on March 12 and 17, they were through audio conference calls from a select number of reporters. The governor’s office indicated a Q&A session with reporters would be held later Monday.

In that same ten-day period, Cuomo also held three public events in which reporters were not invited to attend in person: a March 15 gathering in Old Westbury; a March 17 event in Harlem, where the governor received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine; and a March 18 Zoom announcement with members of the Mets and Yankees about the partial re-opening of Citi Field and Yankee Stadium to fans.

But at the three public events Cuomo held, only the Associated Press was invited to participate in person to provide pooled photos. The attendees at the public events have been limited to public officials and invitees of the governor.

Though the governor, in the past, permitted questions from the press in prior Zoom calls, no Q&A period was provided for the March 18 event.

The media freeze marks a stark policy turn for Cuomo, who became a national media sensation during the first wave of COVID-19 last spring with his daily press briefings. Things changed in recent weeks following the revelations from eight women, including current and former aides to the governor, that Cuomo sexually harassed them.

Cuomo has denied these allegations, which triggered two investigations, including an impeachment inquiry. He has also rebuffed calls for his resignation from dozens of Democratic and Republican officials across the state.

The governor was also facing increased scrutiny from the press for his administration’s reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. That occurred in the wake of a report from state Attorney General Letitia James which found that the state Health Department undercounted the number of fatalities related to the illness.

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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