New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a press conference. | AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is promising to “mobilize an army” to ensure that Black and brown New Yorkers have equal access to any coronavirus vaccines, and threatened a lawsuit against the Trump administration if its distribution plan isn’t overhauled to make that possible.
“The Trump administration is designing the distribution plan, and their plan basically has private health care companies administer the vaccines,” Cuomo said in a speech delivered during services in Manhattan’s Riverside Church on Sunday morning, a rare address in which he relied on a teleprompter.
“The president talks about CVS and Walgreens and national chains. Sure. But they are mainly located in rich communities, not in poor communities. My friends, we cannot compound the racial injustice that Covid has already created. And let me be clear — the Black and brown communities that were first on the list of who died cannot be last on the list of who receives the vaccines, period.”
Context: Cuomo said that the inequities in the distribution plan are exacerbated by the lack of federal aid that could help states ramp up their efforts even while facing budget shortfalls.
If those factors aren’t corrected, New York will join the NAACP and the Urban League in a lawsuit attempting to force changes, the governor announced.
“I’ve tried to work with the Trump administration and argue morality and principle for four years. You’re better of trying to argue with a rock. But it’s not just about morality,” Cuomo told churchgoers. “There can be no more fundamental right in this moment than access to the vaccine. Any plan that intentionally burdens communities of color to hinder access to the vaccine deprives those communities of equal protection under the law and equal protection is enshrined in the Constitution of these United States …
“I tell you today, if the Trump administration does not change this plan and does not provide an equitable vaccine process we will enforce our legal rights , we will bring legal action to protect New Yorkers … and we will fight to make sure very life is protected equally, because enough people have died and enough injustice has been done during Covid. It stops now, it stops with this vaccine.”
Background: This is the latest salvo in a months-long feud between Cuomo and the White House about its vaccine distribution plans. On multiple occasions during the fall, the governor accused Trump of not actually having any such plans.
And he’s also repeatedly raised the possibility that vaccines might be rushed by the federal government without proper vetting. He established a state task force in September that he said should have the authority to review any FDA decisions before vaccines are distributed in New York.
Trump gave Cuomo the authority he was looking for, in a backhanded way, on Friday: “Gov. 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, immediately. And I know the people in New York very well, I know they want it. So the governor will let us know when he’s ready,” he said at an event at the White House. “I hope he doesn’t handle this as badly as he’s handled the nursing homes. But we’re ready to provide it as soon as they let us know that they’ll actually use it.”