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NY May Sue Trump Admin Over Vaccine Plan, Cuomo Says
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers remarks in Manhattan on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers remarks in Manhattan on Sunday, Nov. 15, 20
Credit: Gov. Cuomo's Office

New York State

New York will sue the Trump administration if the federal government does not modify its plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine and provide states with the resources to implement a broader strategy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.

Cuomo has argued in recent weeks that it would be more difficult for people of color to obtain the vaccine under the federal plan because of where it would be made available.

The Trump administration’s plan largely relies on private pharmacies and hospitals to distribute the vaccine on a rolling basis. But there aren’t as many of those facilities in communities of color, Cuomo’s argued, which would make it harder for those residents to get vaccinated.

He repeated that argument in a speech delivered Sunday at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, where he was joined by members of Congress and the state Legislature.

"I tell you today that if the Trump administration does not change this plan and does not provide an equitable vaccine process ... we will bring legal action to protect New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “Let's look at the law. There can be no more fundamental right in this moment than access to the vaccine.”

Cuomo hinted in the speech that the lawsuit would be brought under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which essentially guarantees equal treatment under federal law for all permanent residents.

"It's a legal question,” Cuomo said. “I've tried to work with the Trump administration and argue morality and principal for four years. You're better off arguing with a rock.”

The Trump administration has developed its vaccine distribution plan over the last several months in consultation with national health experts, including those in the federal government. The plan guarantees states will receive the vaccine within 24 hours of its approval by the FDA.

But that may not be the case for New York. President Donald Trump said last week that the vaccine would be delayed for New York because of comments made by Cuomo in opposition to his vaccine distribution plan.

Trump also criticized New York’s intention to briefly screen the vaccine approval process by the FDA before distributing the inoculation to the public.

“The vaccine will be available to the entire general population with the exception of paces like New York state where, for political reasons, the governor decided to say … he wants to take his time with a vaccine because he doesn’t trust where the vaccine’s coming from,” Trump said.

Cuomo, in the last two days, has pushed back on Trump’s characterization of his position, and said his claims about the state’s vaccine approval process weren’t accurate.

In a phone call with reporters Saturday, Cuomo said a panel formed by the state would review the vaccine approval process by the FDA, but that the inoculation would be made immediately available in New York once its approved by the federal agency and delivered.

The approval process, Cuomo said, isn’t to determine the efficacy or safety of the vaccine. It’s to boost public confidence, he said.

In the meantime, Cuomo wants to establish a supplemental network operated by the state to vaccinate individuals in communities without direct access to a private health care facility. That way, people in those communities won’t be left behind, he said Sunday.

"New York state will mobilize an army to vaccinate all New Yorkers fairly, equitably. No state will do it better," Cuomo said.

But that will require funding from the federal government, Cuomo said. The state is facing a $14 billion budget deficit heading into next year, so it can’t afford to do that on its own, he said.

“Don't tell us it's a state's responsibility without giving the state the resources to do the job," Cuomo said. "We call that in New York passing the buck without passing the bucks."

The Trump administration has been quick to point out in recent weeks that Cuomo skipped several conference calls with federal officials and the nation’s other governors to discuss COVID-19, including the plan for a vaccine.

Cuomo has defended his choice to skip those calls, saying he was on a few and didn’t find them useful.

A request for comment sent to the Trump administration Sunday was not immediately returned.

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