Coronavirus

Coronavirus vaccine in New York: what did Donald Trump say?

It started with a press conference from the White House, then it was all downhill from there. Trump and Cuomo’s relationship went from cold to arctic.

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Coronavirus vaccine in New York: what did Donald Trump say?
ANDREW KELLY REUTERS

In his first public address since the announcement last Sunday that he’d lost the election to Joe Biden, Donald Trump gave a press briefing on Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden Friday. First the sitting duck president tried to take credit for the recently lauded 90% effective vaccine from Pfizer claiming it was funded by the US government. It wasn’t. Then he moved on to take a swing at New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Trump said "as soon as April, the vaccine will be available to the entire general population with the exception of places like New York state, where, for political reasons, the governor decided to say ... he wants to take his time on the vaccine…we won't be delivering it to New York until we have authorization to do so, and that pains me to say that."

He continued, "Governor Cuomo will have to let us know when he's ready for it. Otherwise we can't be delivering it to a state that won't be giving it to its people."

Why did Trump threaten to withhold the coronavirus vaccine from New Yorkers?

Trump and Cuomo haven’t seen eye to eye for a while, having harboured a rocky relationship that has become even more volatile under the strain of the covid-19 pandemic.

What Cuomo said earlier this fall is that Americans have raised concerns about the politicisation of any vaccine and that he was set on respecting those concerns. As such, Cuomo has promised that New York health officials will review any US-approved covid-19 vaccine and that he would recommend New Yorkers not be vaccinated until the state-run process is complete. It appears his plans have bruised Trump’s fragile ego, leaving him feeling his authority and that of the FDA could be undermined.

What was New York’s response to Trump comments?

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James wasted no time in threatening Trump right back on social media. On Friday she tweeted:

“Any attempt by Donald Trump to deny New York access to a lifesaving #COVID19 vaccine will be met with a lawsuit, plain and simple.” Adding, “stop playing politics with people's lives.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo soon hit back at Trump’s statement. He called Trump a bully on Saturday on CNN, first making it crystal clear that Trump’s Rose Garden comments were unfairly singling out New York state. New York is among several states that have established scientific panels to independently approve any coronavirus vaccines approved by the FDA "to give people confidence in the approval process".

He went on to assure citizens that "we will have our panel approve it...then I can say to the people of New York, 'I know you were dubious, but it's safe, take it.'"

As well as New York, committees have so far been set up in Connecticut, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, with Nevada, Oregon and Washington state all adding a representative to California’s efforts.

Cuomo: the injustice stops with the vaccine

On Monday Cuomo spoke from New York and hit out again at Trump’s threats, promising to mobilise an army to get a vaccine out there but stressing that he’d need the federal government’s resources. He vowed to join forces with the NAACP and the Urban League to make sure that everyone has equal access to a vaccine.

Highlighting that black and hispanic patients are more likely to die from covid-19 than white patients, Cuomo urged that the injustice and imbalance that the pandemic has exposed in the US’ healthcare system “stops with the vaccine.”

He added that if the Trump administration doesn’t change its plan and provide an equitable vaccination process, the state will enforce its legal rights and will bring legal action to protect New Yorkers.

"Don't tell us it's a state responsibility without giving us the resources to do the job - you fool no one," Cuomo said.

Cuomo again cited lack of trust in the federal government for over-politicising the process as a reason for not wanting to get the vaccine; and it seems he's right on the trust issues. Recent polls show that between a third and half of Americans would be reluctant to get a coronavirus vaccine.

Cuomo: NY vaccine approval unlikely to hold up delivery

Cuomo was sure to impress to CNN on Saturday that the state panel's review of a potential vaccine would be "simultaneous" with the delivery of the vaccine, so that "there will be no delay - as soon as they get us the drug, we are ready to distribute it."

Cuomo was careful to stress that such a review was unlikely to reveal any problems with a potential vaccine. "I don't think the FDA is going to play games at this point, so I don't anticipate any real issue" he said.