On Sunday, the lights went back on at a Broadway theater to celebrate the first anniversary of a fundraising effort that has raised more than $22 million to help people cope with the devastation caused by the pandemic.
- Breaking tonight, the first coronavirus death in the US.
- Big new developments of the coronavirus pandemic and a horrific milestone, the death toll in the United States surpassing the 100,000 mark.
- Just think about it-- 200,000 deaths.
- The deaths in the US have now exceeded 300,000.
- A raging pandemic that has killed so far more than 400,000 Americans.
- Another heartbreaking milestone in the pandemic. The death toll in the United States this evening now topping the 500,000 mark.
JIM DOLAN: The south portico of the White House was bathed in candlelight on that grim winter night in Washington. The President and First Lady mourned as bells tolled at the National Cathedral, a somber, a bitter reflection on 12 months of unfathomable loss.
JOE BIDEN: People we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations. Born in America, immigrated to America. But just like that, so many of them took their final breath alone in America.
JIM DOLAN: There were signs. Dim in the death and dying and amidst so much grief, but signs of better days to come. The weapons against COVID were getting stronger. Science was entering the fray in ways it had not before, shifting the battlefield. Remember, for most of that first traumatic year in COVID's deadly grip, the effort to contain the virus essentially came down to this.
- Wear the mask.
- Wear a mask.
- Please wear your mask.
JIM DOLAN: But a new and powerful weapon was about to launch, appropriately for the pandemic. Prayers, this time, would be answered in a Zoom call.
- We do have a favorable vote, and that concludes this portion of the meeting.
JIM DOLAN: An advisory panel urged the FDA in a 17-to-4 vote to issue an emergency-use authorization decree so Americans can get the Pfizer BioNTech COVID vaccine, which trials show is 95% effective and is safe. The panel urged authorization for the vaccine for people 16 years of age and older. It has changed the lives of those who participated in the trials.
- It feels wonderful. I don't live in fear.
- The FDA giving the green light tonight to the first COVID-19 vaccine in the US. The Pfizer vaccine given emergency-use authorization. Within a matter of hours now, FedEx and UPS will begin shipping millions of doses of the vaccine to all corners of the country.
JIM DOLAN: And it did ship. Over that frenetic bustling December weekend, the first doses of the fragile, temperature-sensitive Pfizer vaccine shipped across the country. It was time.
- Working on the front lines, I saw a lot of pain, hurt, suffering, death. And so I felt a huge sense of relief after I got the vaccine.
JIM DOLAN: The vaccine brought for most in the northeast the thought unimaginable for so long, that the lives they had before, the lives they thought they'd lost, the lives they could only now dream of might someday return.
- It means getting back to normal life, getting some sanity back in our lives.
- I was lucky enough to get an appointment. I was not missing this if I had to snowshoe down 11th Avenue.
- When you get one, it's like winning the lottery.
- The Pfizer vaccine and soon a second vaccine developed by Moderna were a promise of better days. But getting the vaccine to people would prove far more challenging.
- Governor Cuomo has said that New York could run out of vaccine supplies as early as today.
- Frustration is mounting over this rollout.
- Hang up, redial. Hang up, redial.
- A lack of information.
- Refresh, refresh, refresh.
- When and where you can get the vaccine.
- First of all, it's impossible to get appointments. I've been trying for so long.
JIM DOLAN: Seniors and health care workers were the first eligible for the vaccine. But for them, finding it would be so much more difficult.
- The big worry right now remains vaccine supply.
- We're going to run out.
- Go here and there.
- Today, tomorrow, we're going to run out of what we have now.
- It was a total loss for me.
JIM DOLAN: The early days of the rollout--
- That is the back of the line.
JIM DOLAN: --were a nightmare.
- Many of these people have been camped out for hours. And yes, it is below freezing right now, about 28 degrees.
- I'm glad it's available, but this is not the way to be doing this rollout.
JIM DOLAN: And then, winter.
- Looking at this in Monmouth County, this is 3 inches an hour here.
- Eatontown, 8 and 1/2 inches. There was a belt of very heavy snow through central New Jersey.
JIM DOLAN: Two savage winter storms in the Northeast, almost back to back, tripled delivery of the vaccine nationwide.
- Late word tonight and terrible news. New York's next federal allotment of shots now delayed because of the severe weather.
JIM DOLAN: 44 states across the country saw vaccinations delayed or canceled altogether. Of course, the weather would clear. There was another story, though.
ANDREW CUOMO: I wish this never happened. I wish none of it happened. I wish there was no COVID. I wish no old people died.
JIM DOLAN: It was a story that would summon ghosts from early in the COVID crisis that would soon haunt the families of thousands of the most vulnerable who died in the pandemic.
- My mother was healthy. She did not have underlying conditions.
- My mother was fine. Our mother was fine.
- Thousands contracted COVID at nursing homes across the state. And today, attorney general Tish James detailed what she called serious flaws in state oversight, claiming health officials undercounted COVID nursing home deaths by as much as 50% amid inadequate staffing and insufficient PPE.
- Could it have prevented some of what happened? Yeah.
- Cuomo's accused of fudging nursing home death numbers and of enforcing a policy that moved COVID-positive patients from hospitals to nursing homes where the virus spread rapidly.
ANDREW CUOMO: It is a lie to say any numbers were inaccurate. That is a lie.
- Please welcome the 56th governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.
JIM DOLAN: For a governor who has strutted his own adherence to the truth.
ANDREW CUOMO: People wanted facts. I wanted to give them the facts. I was just telling the truth, being honest about my emotions.
JIM DOLAN: We even wrote a book about it.
ANDREW CUOMO: Facts are empowering.
JIM DOLAN: The truth for Andrew Cuomo may not have been as clear cut as he'd let on.
- Melissa DeRosa, one of Cuomo's top aides, admitted the administration withheld information, fearing that Donald Trump's Justice Department would try to politicize the numbers.
- That is a major crime. You can't do that.
JIM DOLAN: As the governor struggled for his political life, the COVID crisis he managed hadn't gone anywhere.
- I got stuff to do. I got to feed my kids stuff, though.
- I don't want to get infected and my mom and dad get sick.
JIM DOLAN: With the vaccines out there, some life was slowly reemerging. But there were threats to the progress that came from every corner of the globe.
- The P1 variant first discovered in Brazil.
- Variant first detected in Britain.
- The variant found in South Africa.
JIM DOLAN: Just as it seemed science was getting a handle on the original coronavirus with two different vaccines, the virus itself was changing, morphing into something different. One mutation of the virus first found in New York late last year is starting to show up more often in the city now, but it's not yet clear if it's spreading faster than other variants or if it's any more dangerous.
- Whether it's a new strain that spreads more easily or causes more severe illness or reduces vaccine effectiveness, we have no indication that that's the case yet.
- These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.
JIM DOLAN: Would the variants succumb to the vaccine as the original virus did? The infection rate had been declining.
- As for the positivity rates, in New York it is down to less than 3%. In New Jersey, it is 6.5%, and Connecticut just above 2%.
JIM DOLAN: But many experts saw the declines as fleeting.
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: The latest data suggest that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number.
JIM DOLAN: And the disparity between those getting the vaccine and those who were not was rooted in the nation's most damning history.
- If the vaccine were available to you right now, would you get it?
- Most definitely not.
- If you could get the vaccine, would you get the vaccine?
- I don't know. I'm skeptical about it.
- Vaccination rates on the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side are at least three times higher than in the city's minority neighborhoods. Breezy Point has the highest vaccination rate at 27%, followed by City Island at 26% and Little Neck with 20%. Compare that to East New York, Jamaica, and Bedford Stuyvesant, each at just 3%.
BILL DE BLASIO: A lot of this is about underlying painful disparities to begin with. Folks who have more privilege are best able to navigate this process. Folks who have more confidence in the vaccine are going to go to more effort to get it.
JIM DOLAN: The mayor and governor moved to put vaccination sites in neighborhoods that had been underserved, and then listed community leaders to encourage people to get the vaccine.
AL SHARPTON: Our people are dying disproportionately. We cannot afford not to do everything in our power to make sure that we set the example to keep our people alive.
JIM DOLAN: And soon a new weapon was about to be added to the COVID arsenal.
DAVID MUIR: The US will very soon have a third weapon against the coronavirus-- Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine. Three to four million doses ready to be shipped out right away. And they say it's 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
JIM DOLAN: Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID vaccine was granted emergency-use authorization. And the company promised by springtime to send enough doses to inoculate 20 million more Americans.
ANTHONY FAUCI: We now have three highly effective vaccines. Importantly, each of them are very effective against severe disease.
JIM DOLAN: The vaccine was out there now, and it was a race against time, against logistics, against an army of confounding and frightening variants. After a year of death and frustration, spring brought with it both the hope that this would all soon be behind us and the fear that the virus was growing beyond our capacity to contain it. And it still wasn't clear which of those would prove true. For "Eyewitness to a Pandemic," I'm Jim Dolan.