WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Monday called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s threats to block the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in the Empire State “absolutely unconscionable.”
In an interview with Fox News on Monday morning, Azar also said that it was Cuomo, not President Trump, who was in charge of distributing the vaccine in New York.
“It’s just absolutely unconscionable that somebody would want to delay a vaccine to the American people that’s safe and effective just for political partisan reasons,” Azar said after Cuomo earlier Monday called a Pfizer breakthrough on a vaccine “bad news.”
“Here’s the really interesting thing, Operation Warp Speed is working very closely with Gov. Cuomo’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker and his team, because guess who’s actually in charge of distributing within any state? The governor is,” Azar continued.
In an interview with “Good Morning America” on Monday, Cuomo blasted Trump’s vaccine plan as “flawed” and went so far as to declare: “We can’t let this vaccination plan go forward the way that Trump and his administration is designing it.”
“The bad news is that it’s about two months before Joe Biden takes over, and this means [the Trump] administration is going to be implementing a vaccine plan,” Cuomo said.
Pfizer announced overnight that its COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90 percent effective at fighting the infection, a milestone in the global fight against the pandemic.
But Cuomo has repeatedly threatened to slow-roll the distribution of any vaccine developed under the Trump administration, claiming the process was “politicized” and vowing to create a review board to double-check any federally approved treatment.
While Pfizer has signed on to Operation Ward Speed, the Trump administration’s plan to fast-track delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine, the company did not take any money from the federal pot to help pay for research and development.
Nick Langworthy, the chairman of the New York State Republican Party, told The Post the comments were “reckless” and said people’s lives could be put at risk for the sake of scoring a political point.
“The governor’s comments are reckless, baseless, irresponsible and will cost lives. He should be ashamed of himself for holding the lives of New Yorkers hostage to score a cheap political point,” he said.
“Our world-class military is handling the distribution and they are supremely capable — if he’s looking for incompetence he should look in the mirror, Langworthy added, a veiled jab at Cuomo’s handling of the deadly nursing home crisis.
But Gareth Rhodes, a member of Cuomo’s COVID-19 Response Task Force, said the governor’s office was concerned that distribution through pharmacies and hospitals would be inadequate and feared it would take 20 months to vaccinate the entire state at the same rate of the flu vaccine.
“The existing flu infrastructure is insufficient,” Rhodes told The Post on Monday, adding that poor communities of color would be left out.
When pressed on who was responsible for distributing a successful vaccine, the governor’s office or the Trump administration, Rhodes said that remained unclear and stressed that New York, like many other states across the nation, was broke.
Andrew CuomoGetty Images
“This is going to be extraordinarily expensive. The federal government hasn’t given the state and local governments any type of aid that we need to make up for our budget revenue. All these states are broke,” he said.
“We’ve asked over 35 questions that would help us understand the delineation of federal and state responsibility. There are many unknowns,” he went on.
“What we do know so far is that the federal government’s plan doesn’t take into account the need for states to be able to go beyond the existing infrastructure and that is why we are calling, even repeatedly calling, the federal government to put forward the funding and have the type of visionary approach that recognizes that that you can’t just use the existing flu vaccine infrastructure,” he said.
Responding to Cuomo’s latest remarks that Trump’s distribution plan was “flawed,” Azar suggested that Cuomo was out of touch with his own health experts.
“His team is doing a really good job of working with us and his team can set up a distribution system and a prioritization within their state,” Azar said.
When asked if other governors were trying to stop distribution under this president, the HHS secretary said Cuomo was alone.
“No, the other governors that we’re working with are excited and they want to be in charge of the distribution,” Azar said.
“Does that include Cuomo?” asked anchor Sandra Smith.
“Well, it includes his staff,” retorted Azar. “He ought to talk to them and learn what their plans are.”
Trump, who shares an acrimonious relationship with the governor, unloaded on Cuomo in September, calling him a “lowlife,” and said the vaccine had been developed by the “finest labs in the world.”