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NYC Restaurant Workers Are Now Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccine

Gov. Andrew Cuomo expands the vaccine-eligibility pool just as indoor dining comes back

A COVID-19 vaccine hub taking appointments only stands in Brooklyn as the city begins to run low on doses on January 22, 2021 in New York City.
A COVID-19 vaccine hub in Brooklyn
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that NYC can allow restaurant workers to be included in current vaccine-eligible groups, namely Phase 1b. The federal government had released additional vaccines to New York, according to Cuomo, which allowed the state to distribute 20 percent more vaccines to local governments.

The move allows taxi drivers, restaurant workers, and workers at facilities for the developmentally disabled to soon receive vaccinations, Cuomo said, but he left the power to distribute those vaccines with local governments, saying they could do so based on the supplies they had received and which workers they wanted to prioritize.

“I’m leaving it up to local governments to make sure what fits their situation best,” said Cuomo during a press conference Tuesday. “I don’t know if Mayor de Blasio will want to vaccinate taxi drivers or restaurant workers first but that’s a local determination for the local health department to make,” he added referring specifically to the decision making in NYC.

It is not clear yet how NYC will proceed with vaccine distribution under these new guidelines. The mayor’s press secretary Bill Neidhardt said in an email that “we’re glad that the discussion around expanding eligibility for more New Yorkers continues to move forward. We need as many New Yorkers to be vaccinated as quickly as possible and the City is looking at these new allowances.”

The shift toward letting the city widen its vaccine eligibility pool follows Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press conference just hours beforehand, where he openly called on the state government to allow restaurant workers access to the COVID-19 vaccine now that indoor dining is returning to the city starting on Valentine’s Day.

“Restaurant workers now are going to be in enclosed places with people eating and drinking,” de Blasio said. “Every doctor on this line [referring to people like the CEO of NYC’s Health and Hospitals, who often participates in the mayor’s daily press conferences] and anywhere else would say that is an area of concern. We have to protect the people who work in our restaurants. So now that the state has made this decision, it follows that we have to protect those workers and they should be added to the 1b category.”

Allowing NYC the option to make restaurant workers vaccine-eligible now represents a sharp departure from comments that Cuomo made yesterday, when he said that restaurant workers haven’t been made eligible to receive the vaccine yet because the state has a limited vaccine supply. New Yorkers in Phase 1a and 1b of the state’s vaccination distribution program who currently have access to the COVID-19 vaccine include public-facing grocery store workers, public transit workers, and people ages 65 or older.

The pool of vaccine-eligible individuals in Phase 1b has been expected to expand sometime in February, with “other frontline essential workers” and “other at-risk groups” added to the pool, according to the city’s Department of Health website. Phase 1c, which may start in March or April, includes “all other essential workers.” The general public will have access to the vaccine, likely starting in the summer. The state is responsible for determining who is eligible in each of those categories, but it has not explicitly defined the other essential worker categories further at this point. For those currently in vaccine-eligible groups, it still remains difficult to actually get the vaccination, with many experiencing long wait times for vaccine appointments.

Cuomo has increasingly come under fire for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, with nine top officials in the health department stepping down in recent months over concerns with the governor’s decision-making, according to a New York Times report. Cuomo and de Blasio have publicly sparred many times over the state’s COVID-19 response, arguing on everything from vaccine distribution to indoor dining allowances.

“I think when I say these things publicly, it’s duly noted in Albany,” de Blasio said at his morning press conference. “The state made a decision; now, follow through on the decision and add these folks to the 1b category.”