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NEW YORK, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling on the federal government to change its plan to distribute the coronavirus vaccine, arguing that a current proposal leaves out undocumented and minority populations critical to its success at stopping the pandemic.
The New York governor — along with more than 50 advocacy organizations — penned a letter Tuesday to U.S. Department for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking that President Donald Trump's administration do more to support underserved communities in its vaccination program.
Cuomo specifically took issue with an agreement the federal government has asked states to sign that would require them to share identification data about people who take the vaccine.
Under the agreement, the required data — Social Security numbers, driver's license identification numbers or passport numbers — could be shared with other federal agencies, including the The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"This provision obviously raises concerns, as the proposed criteria are all proxies for proof of citizenship," Cuomo wrote. "...If undocumented Americans are dissuaded from participating in the vaccination program, it would jeopardize both their health and the efficacy of the entire vaccination program."
The letter comes as states gear up for the massive project of distributing vaccines that could be ready as soon as Christmas, though Cuomo said the bulk of the distribution will come in 2021.
The governor pointed out that President-Elect Joe Biden, set to take office in January, likely wouldn't agree with the Trump administration's data-sharing provisions, but that states are being asked to sign the agreement now.
"It sounds like President-Elect Biden takes over very soon, but sometimes very soon isn’t soon enough," Cuomo said in a conference call Tuesday.
Tuesday's letter proposes an identification system run by New York that would not identify Social Security number, passport number or driver's license number to the federal government and asks that the federal government agree to keep vaccination information private from non-health agencies.
It also includes a call for more federal funding so states can reach Black, Brown, Asian and low-income communities, who are underserved by private healthcare facilities.
"We need to focus on Black, Brown, Asian and low-income communities that are historically underserved by the healthcare institutions that are key to the federal government's plan," Cuomo said. "Time is of the essence as we get closer to the distribution date and I urge the administration to address these issues quickly."