New York on Monday began giving vaccines to residents aged 75 and older as well as a wider range of essential workers, as state health officials expanded the group of people eligible to receive the vaccine.
The updated inoculation guidelines came last week after days of pressure from Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City and an outcry over medical providers having to throw out vaccine doses because of challenges finding patients who precisely matched the state’s strict vaccination guidelines.
“We fought hard for the freedom to vaccinate,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference on Monday. “Now we have it.”
Among the essential workers now permitted to receive the vaccine statewide are police officers, firefighters, teachers and school administrators, public transit workers, public-facing grocery store workers and people living or working in homeless shelters who sleep or eat alongside others outside their household.
Mr. de Blasio said that 55,000 people had already scheduled appointments to be vaccinated at city-run sites. Overnight appointments between midnight and 4 a.m. were fully booked, he added.
In a television interview, the city’s police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said that 400 police officers received a dose of the vaccine in the first hour of the department’s vaccination efforts.
City health officials planned to push particularly hard to inoculate older New Yorkers, who are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus. To assist in this effort, the city set up a new website and phone system (1-877-VAX4-NYC) to help connect people with appointments.
The city has also pushed in recent days to accelerate the pace of vaccinations. Mr. de Blasio said 101,799 doses were given last week, higher than the goal of 100,000 he had previously set.
This week, city health officials aimed to see 175,000 doses of the vaccine administered. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said the city had 230,000 doses on hand and expected another 100,000 delivered this week.
On Saturday, state health officials abruptly loosened guidelines, allowing medical providers to administer the vaccine to any employees who interact with the public if there are extra doses in a vial and no one from “the priority population can come in before the doses expire,” the new guidelines read. A pharmacy’s “store clerks, cashiers, stock workers and delivery staff” could qualify, the guidelines said.
The new, more forgiving guidelines highlight the difficulties the state has had in balancing the need to vaccinate vulnerable populations quickly with the imperative to prevent fraud and favoritism in the distribution process.
On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during his annual State of the State address that vaccinating the majority of New Yorkers would be one of the state’s priorities this year. To do so, the state will recruit 1,000 fellows for a New York State Public Health Corps that will facilitate vaccination efforts and establish an emergency response plan for future health crises.
Neil Calman, whose Institute for Family Health had to discard unused vaccine doses, hailed the state’s recent rule change, but argued for yet more loosening of guidelines to allow for vaccinations of at-risk patients with conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease who are younger than 75.
“We’re seeing them in our office, and it just seems like we’re turning them away today just so we can call them back in a week and say, ‘Now you can get your vaccine,’” Dr. Calman said.