New York City health officials and their upstate counterparts are deeply frustrated with how top Cuomo aides have centralized and micromanaged vaccine distribution across the state.
Cuomo brought back his former budget director Larry Schwartz — who sits on the MTA’s board and serves as the governor’s enforcer — to run the state’s vaccine distribution program.
Schwartz’s role came into sharper focus Monday as it was revealed that at least nine senior state health officials have either resigned, retired or been reassigned amid the pandemic — and city and upstate officials expressed new worries that Cuomo’s office had sidelined experts in favor of trusted political aides.
Emails obtained by The Post show the hands-on roll that Schwartz has in the effort.
State officials quietly issued guidance on January 12 that required local health departments to prioritize vaccinating frontline employees over providing shots to senior citizens, who would be referred to state-run megasites that Cuomo has launched with great fanfare.
Meanwhile, local pharmacies were instructed to give New Yorkers 65-years of age or older priority when awarding appointments for vaccinations.
The guidance never laid out what state officials meant by priority — leaving city and upstate health officials confused by the new regulations, several told the Post.
“They’re doubling down on dumb. They’re doubling down on such restrictive policies that it’s creating conflict where it’s not necessary,” said Dutchess County executive Mark Molinaro, who challenged Cuomo in the 2018 governor’s race.
But that didn’t stop Schwartz from threatening their eligibility to participate in the coronavirus vaccination program if they failed to comply with the unclear mandates.
“Please be reminded that the Memorandum of Understanding you signed to participate in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program legally requires your compliance with prioritization and other requirements,” Schwartz wrote in an email sent January 15 and obtained by The Post.
In another email, sent over the weekend of January 17, Schwartz instructed local health departments to not make appointments for vaccinations more than a week in advance because federal authorities were only providing a few days heads-up about coming coronavirus vaccine shipments.
“Appointments should not be pre-booked based on an assumption the weekly planning request will be met,” Schwartz wrote in the email.
“Do not book appointments until you hear from the state regarding your estimated allocation for the following week.”
He again reiterated to local authorities that they were “attesting to the truthfulness of any information reported both the NYS Vaccine Tracker, and NYSIIS/CIR, as applicable, under penalty of law.”
Cuomo then codified both directive limiting future appointments and the priority program in an executive order issued on January 23 with little fanfare.
“We’re administering 100% of our weekly doses and have operational capacity to do 100,000 shots a day—the problem is lack of federal supply,” a spokesman for the governor said.
“The guidance creates clear channels to ensure the 7.1 million eligible New Yorkers have the opportunity to be vaccinated. If the policy was so restrictive then why are counties, like the state, running out of doses? It makes no sense which is how you know the county executive is playing politics.”