“These are great populations for us to vaccinate, but we believe we should open it up to more people,” said Steve Moore, chairman of the Pharmacists Society of New York, an industry group for independent pharmacies.
Eligible groups such as food service workers and public-facing government employees, for example, are still barred from getting their shots at pharmacies. A state Health Department spokesperson said the restrictions are in place to ensure enough supply for educators, after President Joe Biden called on states to prioritize them.
State Sen. Jeremy Cooney of Rochester wrote a letter last week, signed by 37 legislators, calling on Cuomo to allow pharmacies to vaccinate all eligible New Yorkers.
“The new expansion, while welcomed, is not what the 37 members of the Senate majority requested,” Cooney said in a statement Sunday night. “We continue to urge [Cuomo] to simplify vaccination access and eliminate unnecessary barriers for patients and providers.”
State guidance sent to vaccine distributors March 17 said pharmacies could begin inoculating New Yorkers with eligible comorbidities but should still prioritize teachers and child care workers, in keeping with federal guidance that says all educators should get at least one dose by the end of this month.
“To meet the federal mandate, we are trying to ensure high availability for the educator population at pharmacies through the month of March,” said Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
A bill passed in June allowing pharmacies to vaccinate for Covid-19 did not include any restrictions on who would be eligible, said State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan lawmaker who led the legislation.
“The more distribution to pharmacies the better, as we have seen from surveys that individuals trust going to their doctor and pharmacy more than a larger, public space,” Hoylman said. “Anything that allows pharmacists to take on this role of vaccinating more is better.”
At Mount Carmel Pharmacy in the Little Italy section of the Bronx, the governor’s back-to-back announcements led to a day of steady phone calls Monday. Customers wanted to know if they were now eligible, said owner Roger Paganelli. Although he welcomed the change, he said he had to search for clarification on whether the new age limit applied to pharmacies.
“The guidance is changing fast, and that puts us—meaning independent pharmacies trying to vaccinate as many people as possible—in a tricky situation,” Paganelli said.
Keeping up with the changing rules and communicating them to customers while dealing with day-to-day pharmacy business is a challenge, he said.
“If I’m making pizza for 240 people and they call you 15 minutes out, there is no way you are going to have that ready,” Paganelli said. “Give us a heads-up so we can plan.”
New York facilities had administered 7.7 million vaccine doses as of Monday, according to the governor's office. New York City has received 2.3 million of those doses, with about 1.2 million New Yorkers fully vaccinated.