Governor Cuomo, Chair of National Governor’s Association, responds to Biden Administration’s decision to provide States with more Vaccine & better Communicate Future Allotments

Follows Request from Governors to Federal Government to Increase Supply and Give States More Advance Notice About Future Vaccine Allotments Rather than Week to Week 

Cuomo: “It is going to take six months to do this. That’s competence and it’s honesty and it’s what the President said he was going to bring and let it now recalibrate the public expectation and slow down all this confusion and anxiety that we feel among the American people.”

Yesterday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on MSNBC’s Deadline: White House with Nicolle Wallace, responding to the Biden Administration’s decision to provide states with more vaccine and better communicate future allotments.  

AUDIO is available here.

A rush transcript of the Governor’s interview is available below:

Nicolle Wallace: Joining us now, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Governor, I want to start with a two-part question. First, welcome back and second, Washington Post and Associated Press are reporting that President Biden has just told governors like yourself that you will get 16 percent more doses starting next week because of increased manufacturing. Is that enough?

Governor Cuomo: It’s true. It’s not enough. So yes and no. The governors just had a call organized with the National Governors Association with Jeff Zients, who is Counselor to the President and he heads the COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Walensky from the CDC, General Perna, and it is very good news from our point of view, from the governors’ point of view. The allocation will go up 16 percent but even more importantly, Nicolle, we can count on that allocation for the next three weeks. We’ve been going week to week and you really can’t plan and schedule when you don’t know what you’re going to get next week. You can’t do it in any orderly way, so knowing what number we’re going to get for the next three weeks is very important because it will bring efficiency to the program that we haven’t been able to implement. I can now turn around and tell my distributors, you’re going to get 16 percent more for the next three weeks, so that’s good news. Is 16 percent going to make the difference for those states that can administer the vaccines at a higher rate? No. At this rate we’re talking about months and months obviously. And I think it’s important to remember, you used the expression federal production, the federal government is not producing this drug. It’s Pfizer, it’s modern, hopefully Johnson & Johnson gets approved, but they don’t have the factory under federal control and that’s the problem. They have inherited, I believe, a flawed production schedule that they’re now going to have to work with.

Nicolle Wallace: Let’s get into the weeds a little bit. I understand there to be a bit of a disagreement between yourself and the Mayor of New York City about that second dose. Obviously, the two approved vaccines require two doses and what was tested and approved was a pretty specific interval between the first and second. It’s my understanding from news coverage and please correct me if I’m wrong, that you’re for holding that second dose to make sure the people who received the first one are adequately vaccinated and he’s for releasing them all. Where does that stand and are you open to releasing the second doses that you have currently in the state stockpile?

Governor Cuomo: The Mayor’s point and others have said, why don’t we start using the second dosage as the first dosage for people because the supply is short? Many people have recommended that. The federal government does not allow that because the fear is until you really know what the production schedule is, if you start using the second dose as the first dose, you have to have a dramatically increased supply because otherwise you’re going to leave people without a second dose when their appointment is due 21 days later, and that’s why the federal government has not approved that. You’ve been talking about how they’re trying to get their hands around the actual supply. You start using the second dose as a first dose, you’d have to have a dramatically increased production in the next three weeks. Otherwise, you’re going to have people coming back for their second dose and the cupboard is going to be bare, so it’s just not allowed by the federal government yet. I don’t know that they’d ever approve it and I don’t know that they should approve it until they know they have more supply to actually provide that second dose.

Nicolle Wallace: The CDC today released some reporting of their own saying that schools have turned out to be very low transmitters of coronavirus and I know that you very early on left the school reopenings, made it basically local and regionalized. I wonder what you think about the CDC reporting. Was it something that you saw tested out in New York State? Does it surprise you? Does it encourage you? Do you think more people should get their schools back to in-person learning?

Governor Cuomo: No, Nicolle, New York’s position was early on that all the data we were looking at and what we saw around the world was that schools were safer than the surrounding community and localities control, quote unquote, education. That’s been the historical truth in this state but my position was always all the data says that schools are safer than the surrounding community, and why wouldn’t you keep schools open when you are testing as robustly as we’re testing in New York? We do more testing than any state in the United States. So we know the infection rate in the classroom and we know the infection rate on the street corner and the schools are the safest place to be in that community. So yes, keep the schools open.

Nicolle Wallace: I want to ask you if you argued at all on this call or if you’re making a case to the federal government that a state that is ready to distribute, that has mass vaccinate venues and vaccinators standing by, should get more supply earlier?

Governor Cuomo: The federal government is distributing by population which they have been doing, which is the inarguable fair allocation. You raised a very good point. It did not come up on this call but if you have states that are going through their allocation faster, should the federal government provide those states with more vaccine because the states that are distributing it slower, in effect, can’t use it?  Now, they’ve only been in for six days, right, and it’s a difficult issue and again, they have to know exactly what the supply is coming down the road because they would have to back fill those states that they borrowed allocation from.  But in New York State, we effectively do that. In other words, I know what distributors are faster with the vaccine than others. So I provide distributors who are faster in using the vaccine more vaccine because if you want to get needles in the arms then you use the distributors who can do it faster. Why doesn’t the same logic apply to states? Again, because you’ll have the supply for that state when they need it as long as you know what your future supply is. What’s happening here, Nicolle, is what we’ve seen since day one with COVID. We’re looking at this anew because it’s a Biden Administration. They’ve been there six days, except they’re inheriting the system and we know the system. This was a federal government that denied responsibility for the situation from day one. Their line from day one was, it’s up to the states, it’s up to the states, it’s up to the states. You would think that the federal government had no connection to states listening to them speak. And whether it was N-95 masks or testing or nasal swabs or ventilators, whatever the issue, they said well, it’s up to the states. They then procured this vaccine, right, Operation Warpspeed. They procured a vaccine. They set the production schedule. By their production schedule, you’re not going to have enough vaccine for months unless the new Biden ministration can figure out how to ramp it up. This is a supply issue. My state is basically out of vaccine today. We’re functionally out. We start to get a new allocation over the next few days, but then to compound problem, they put tremendous confusion and anxiety into the situation, and I went back and forth with them many times on this. Look at what they did. Their eligibility: essential workers, health care workers, people 65 plus. In the state of New York that’s 7 million people they told were eligible for the vaccine. Okay. 7 million but my supply is only 250,000 per week. They said to 7 million people, you’re eligible but by the way, by the current supply rate it’ll take seven months to get to you. So, now you have all these people who say I’m eligible. I want it. I’m afraid.

Nicolle Wallace: And then everybody else is after that.

Governor Cuomo: Yes, but to tell you today you’re eligible by the way, there’s not enough vaccine, you may not get it for seven months. That just created unnecessary confusion and anxiety that was just a function of incompetence frankly. Calibrate the demand to the supply. If you knew you didn’t have the supply, then say fewer people were eligible so you create this false expectation.

Nicolle Wallace: President Biden is expected to start speaking a couple minutes from now but one thing I want to ask you talked about, because you and I have talked about it when there was a prospect of the Trump administration continuing, and that’s the current relief package for cities and states. Are you involved in lobbying for support for that and are you- what you’re seeing in it, is New York getting what it needs?

Governor Cuomo: Well, the overall package is on the outlines of what we’ve talked. You know, from the governors’ point of view what’s called state and local financing is imperative. My state has a deficit, many states are fiscally stressed because COVID was expensive. COVID cost the economy lost revenues, COVID cost state governments and actual operating emergency response. So, we need federal assistance to repair that economic damage. If the federal government doesn’t do that, then you’re going to see states under serious financial pressure, raising taxes, cutting essential workers, et cetera. That is in President Biden’s plan but we have to see.

Nicolle Wallace: The President has taken off his mask. We’re going to listen in Governor. I’m sorry.

The interview continued after the President Biden’s remarks:

Nicolle Wallace: Governor Cuomo, we talked before, and thank you for waiting and watching with us. We talked about whether or not that was enough. I wonder if the whole picture and the order for millions more doses from the two approved vaccine manufacturers gets us closer to, as you said, the eligible population in your state of 7 million? At the current pace they won’t be vaccinated for many more months. Does today’s announcement, today’s news help?

Governor Cuomo: Nicolle, I say amen, and the American people should say amen. You have the short-term issue which is the confusion created when the Trump Administration made so many people eligible but had no vaccines. That, we’re going to work through. The President saying a 16 percent increase and states can count on that for three weeks, that gives us certainty, but what the President is saying is, look, to vaccinate 300 million people, you need 600 million dosages, assuming the two dosages from Pfizer and Moderna. They didn’t buy 600 million doses, and he is going to acquire 600 million doses by the end of the summer and the honesty is, this isn’t over until we vaccinate, herd immunity, critical mass, so it’s not over until the summer. That’s competent government, professional government, the federal government doing what it should do. Frankly, the federal government should have bought 600 million dosages months ago because that was always the number, 300 million times two. So now you’re going to have the supply and the honesty is, you’re not going to have the supply tomorrow. It is going to take six months to do this. That’s competence and it’s honesty and it’s what the President said he was going to bring and let it now recalibrate the public expectation and slow down all this confusion and anxiety that we feel among the American people.

Nicolle Wallace: Well, and you talk about confusion and anxiety. Some of that is born out in the toll in terms of new infections and deaths. I mean, I think on Inauguration Day, the country set a record, more than 4,100 souls were lost last Tuesday. Do you worry, and you have been aggressive about policies and enforcement of them, but do you worry that we can’t hold on and sort of keep up the strategies? Do you think that the promise of a vaccine, what effect does it have? Does it make people double down on the masks and say, I’m almost there? Or do you think people become careless?

Governor Cuomo: I think, Nicolle, I think you have quote, unquote, COVID fatigue, right? I’ve done this, I’m bored, people have it and then they recover, I’m not as afraid. I think these new strains that you’re seeing, I think this has gotten people’s attention and second amen, I have been asking the federal government to do a testing on travelers for weeks, as soon as we heard about the UK strain. We made the same mistake that we made the first time with COVID. You know when New York had more cases than anyone else? Because COVID was coming from Europe for months and the federal government didn’t know it. We then have this new UK strain. They still allowed travelers coming. New Brazilian strain? There was still no testing on travelers. South African strain? There was still no testing on travelers, and President Biden just implemented a testing on international travelers. But I think the new strains have people worried and they should be, by the way. They think that the UK strain is going to be the dominant strain by March. That’s what the CDC says. That’s what Fauci says. That’s a problem. These new strains are 30 percent to 70 percent more transmissible. That’s a problem and that’s why you’ll see those numbers going up. So, i think people are paying attention again.

Nicolle Wallace: Governor, my last question is about the State of the state. What do you foresee the next few months? Obviously, the President made clear and you have made clear in this interview that it’s by population, but we have a lot of people. We need a whole lot of vaccine supply until our city and our state are vaccinated. Can you just play out, I mean restaurants, and to live in New York is to love your local restaurant and to feel a connection to a lot of the family-owned restaurants. They are really suffering. I know there’s no respite to the ban on indoor dining. Can you just take us through the industries that you think will have to wait the longest to see relief in New York State?

Governor Cuomo: Well, our positivity rate is going down. Our hospitalization rate is going down. We’re over what we called the holiday spike and we had predicted all of this, Nicolle, starting Thanksgiving people start celebrating for the holidays. We asked people to celebrate smartly, masks, et cetera, but more social activity, we saw the spike. We’re on the other side of the mountain. The positivity is coming down. The hospitalization rate is coming down so we’re going to be opening up more economic activity.

The restaurants in New York City we’re still watching but the numbers are all good and are all trending good. So, short term that’s the window. Long term, we have to watch these new strains. If they’re right about that UK strain being dominant in March, you’ll see numbers go back up now. I don’t know if they’re right, right? Nobody’s been here before and, frankly, the experts have been wrong before, but that’s something we’re watching.

The more people vaccinated the better. This state we have a very high vaccination rate. We’re waiting on vaccine. Your point earlier about, can the federal government allocate more to states that are faster at vaccinating is something that I think they should consider but six months, as the President just laid out, to buy 600 million doses, that’s the realistic time frame. And you know, six months sounds like a lifetime especially when people have gone through such a long year, but it’s also the truth. What I found all through is crisis is that people value the truth. You know, give me the information. Don’t give me spin, give me facts that don’t change. Tell me the truth. The country hadn’t bought enough dosages, they now are going to buy enough dosages. It’s 600 million. it will take six months. That’s the truth and until we get there, we have to watch these new strains and that’s the truth. So, it is going to be a long six months, especially after what we’ve gone through. That’s is the truth.

And this state, I’m very proud of what New Yorkers have done, because they have rallied. We were ambushed like no other state, Nicolle, and again it was from federal incompetence. They thought the virus was in China, it had left China, gone to Europe and it came here for three months before they ever knew. Incompetent government kills people. Incompetent government kills people. More people died than needed to die in COVID. That’s the truth, and forget Democrat or Republican, as a person who believes in government and public service and who was seen people die over this past year, that’s why hearing President Biden is such a welcome relief, having Jeff Zients on the phone and Dr. Walensky. These are professionals. They understand that it’s not spine and politics. You’re talking about human life. And they went to work and in six days, they’re telling you the truth and they have a plan to get it done in six months. That’s a welcome relief.

Nicolle Wallace: And just to your point, Tony Fauci looks 10 years younger just being able to tell the truth and let the science speak for itself even when it isn’t a good picture. Governor Cuomo, I have an offer for you. The new President and his team tend to speak between 4:00 and 6:00, if you’re ever interested and not busy, please join us and help us make sense of it. I think it’s this peace that has never before existed since we’ve been in this time of coronavirus between the federal government and the states that everyone knows, literally, our lives depend on it at this point, so we really appreciate your insights. Thank you, sir.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you, Nicolle. My pleasure.