By Carl O’Donnell and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The governors of New York and Florida sought to accelerate the slower-than-expected rollout of coronavirus vaccines by warning hospitals on Monday that they would reduce future allocations to those that fail to dispense shots quickly enough.
In New York, hospitals must administer vaccines within a week of receiving them or face a fine and loss of future supplies, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
“I don’t want the vaccine in a fridge or a freezer, I want it in somebody’s arm,” the governor said. “If you’re not performing this function, it does raise questions about the operating efficiency of the hospital.”
The U.S. federal government has distributed more than 15 million vaccine doses to states and territories around the country, but only around 4.5 million have been administered so far, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Monday.
The U.S. government has fallen far short of its target of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020. Officials said they expect the rollout will pick up significantly this month.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CBS News that there are 15 million to 20 million doses of vaccine available.
“We should be hopeful about that while acknowledging we have got to do better and we are going to keep doing better,” Adams said. “And I promise you, you will see in these next two weeks numbers increase substantially.”
The United States had reported a total of 20.5 million COVID-19 cases and 351,480 deaths as of midnight on Sunday. On a seven-day rolling average, it is reporting 210,190 cases and 2,636 coronavirus deaths per day.
In Florida, where officials have put senior citizens ahead of many essential workers for getting the vaccine, Governor Ron DeSantis announced a policy under which the state would allocate doses to hospitals that dispense them most quickly,
“Hospitals that do not do a good job of getting the vaccine out will have their allocations transferred to hospitals that are doing a good job at getting the vaccine out,” DeSantis said at a briefing.
“We do not want vaccine to just be idle at some hospital system,” he added, though he did not say they would face fines.
Florida will also deploy an additional 1,000 nurses to administer vaccines and will keep state-run vaccination sites open seven days a week, he said.
New York has dispensed about 175,000 doses of the 896,000 it has received since mid-December, according to CDC data. Florida has dispensed 265,000 of the 1.14 million doses it received.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said obstacles were slowing his goal to have 1 million residents receive a first of two vaccine doses by the end of January. A little over 110,000 residents have received their first dose so far, according to city data.
De Blasio urged the state to broaden early eligible groups beyond healthcare workers and nursing home residents to include essential workers such as teachers, police officers, fire fighters, grocery store personnel and people who are more than 75 years old.
New York City currently has 125 vaccination sites and plans to double that by the end of the month, the mayor said.
“This has got to be a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour reality going forward,” de Blasio said.
Monday also marked the first day when some Americans were due to receive their second vaccine shot, three weeks after getting the first dose. Among them was Maritza Beniquez, a healthcare worker in Newark, New Jersey.
“I now have body armor,” she said after receiving the dose in a video posted on Facebook by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who was part of a small gathering that witnessed the event.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Carl O’Donnell, Rebecca Spaulding and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Anurag Maan, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)