One of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top advisers instructed hospitals to prioritize vaccinating hospital workers over the elderly, prompting criticism that the administration was creating a false choice in the coronavirus response.
“You must schedule those employees before you do any other eligible 1a populations,” said Cuomo adviser Larry Schwartz in an email reported Thursday by TIME. Eligible 1A populations includes a long list of medical workers, including “staff of nursing homes/skilled nursing facilities.”
Schwartz’s memo reportedly read: “If, and only if, all phase 1a eligibility groups been exhausted hospitals may vaccinate individuals in the 65+ category.” The email came as Cuomo publicly lamented a 40%-50% vaccination rate at some hospitals.
Schwartz, who’s leading the governor’s vaccination efforts, told Time that his message wasn’t intended to penalize hospitals, and that the elderly could receive a vaccine before workers who postpone obtaining one. Hospitals, Schwartz reportedly said, would continue receiving doses to vaccinate vulnerable populations as well.
However, the email prompted backlash from Ramon Rodriguez, who serves as President and CEO of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.
“These decisions are false choices,” he said, according to TIME. He claimed that doses for roughly half of his employees had been transferred to sick and elderly patients.
“We get the doses and we use them,” he said. “Our vaccinations are more targeted towards sick people who are chronically ill because this is the place they know to go to. We are their health care provider.”
The email comes after the Cuomo administration encountered backlash for its handling of the pandemic — including for the way it counted nursing home deaths. Last week, Cuomo announced he was extending vaccination eligibility to elderly inmates.