Across New York State, medical providers had the same story in recent weeks: They had been forced to throw out precious vaccine doses because of difficulties finding patients who precisely matched the state’s strict vaccination guidelines — and the steep penalties they would face had they made a mistake.
On Saturday, state health officials responded to the outcry over discarded vaccines by again abruptly loosening guidelines as coronavirus cases continued to rise.
Now, medical providers can 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.
It was the second time in two days that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration had loosened the restrictions around who can get vaccinated in New York State. The governor announced on Friday that medical providers could vaccinate a wider range of essential workers and New Yorkers 75 years and older starting as early as Monday.
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.
Neil Calman, whose Institute for Family Health had to discard unused vaccine doses, hailed the 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.