By Jim Carlton and Melanie Grayce West 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday asked Pfizer Inc. if it would sell its Covid-19 vaccine directly to New York state, to help alleviate a shortfall of federally allocated doses that he blames on the Trump administration.

In a letter to Pfizer Chairman and Chief Executive Albert Bourla, the Democratic governor said he was appealing to the company directly after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar failed to deliver on a commitment to increase the doses to New York state.

Last week, the governors of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota sent a letter to Mr. Azar urging him to grant permission for states to directly purchase doses of the vaccine. Mr. Cuomo's request marks a rare attempt to bypass the federal government and get a state its own supply of vaccine.

The governor said the state received 250,000 doses this week -- 50,000 fewer than last week -- even after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the population eligible to get a dose, to people age 65 and up.

With about seven million New Yorkers now eligible, Mr. Cuomo said it would take as long as seven months to vaccinate them all at the current supply. The state has recorded more than 33,000 Covid-19 deaths, the highest in the nation.

"It is abundantly clear that these vaccines are the weapons that will finally win the war against Covid-19," Mr. Cuomo said in the letter to Pfizer, which is based in New York. "But with hospitalizations and deaths increasing across the country this winter, we are in a footrace with the virus, and we will lose unless we dramatically increase the number of doses getting to New Yorkers."

Mr. Cuomo told the CEO he believed Pfizer wasn't bound by commitments that the other major vaccine provider, Moderna Inc., made as part of President Trump's Operation Warp Speed, and could sell directly to the state.

Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts said the company is open to a broader collaboration model that would help expedite the distribution. However, she said federal approval would be needed for any direct sales to states.

A Health and Human Services spokesperson said late Monday that New York has only administered about half of the doses it has received from the federal government.

"Given that the state could nearly double its vaccinations with what it already has on the shelf, we are perplexed as to why Governor Cuomo is trying to circumvent a long-planned federal allocation system by attempting to cut to the front of the line at the expense of fellow jurisdictions," the spokesperson said.

The supply problem, which affects states across the U.S., stems from a shortage of vaccines flowing from the federal government, governors have said. A rapid expansion of who is eligible for a vaccine was supposed to be met with an increased allocation of vaccine from a reserve of doses held by the government.

But several governors said Friday that it turned out there wasn't a ready supply from the reserve, even as states, counties and cities rapidly expanded their own infrastructure to vaccinate and the pool of people eligible for the vaccine grew.

In a press conference Monday, Mr. Cuomo said only 900,000 people have had their first of two required doses, out of a state of 20 million people. "Our allocation is nowhere near enough," Mr. Cuomo said.

As a result, one of New York's most populous counties will cancel Covid-19 vaccination clinics, citing a dramatically reduced supply of available vaccines.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Saturday canceled community vaccination clinics set to happen up to Wednesday. Erie County includes the city of Buffalo, the second-largest city in the state.

The county will get only 1,700 doses of the vaccine this week, compared with last week when it got 4,200 doses and previous weeks when 7,500 doses were shipped, Mr. Poloncarz said. The cancellation affects thousands of people.

"Everyone is getting less," Mr. Poloncarz said during a Saturday press conference, adding that "not a single drop of vaccine" has been wasted by the county.

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com and Melanie Grayce West at melanie.west@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 19, 2021 09:11 ET (14:11 GMT)

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