Open Letter to Gov. Cuomo: Accept Responsibility for Vaccine Miscues
Last Wednesday, links popped up locally and around the state that allowed people to fill out a form on the New York State Health Department website, prompting hundreds of innocent people to schedule their vaccine at locations including the Utica Auditorium Annex in Utica. That registration was deemed invalid due to unapproved links sending people to unapproved vaccination sites. The premature links also affected people in Binghamton, Buffalo, Plattsburgh, Potsdam, and Stony Brook. Later in the day, word began to spread that the appointments that initially caused such celebration, were actually cancelled by the state because the sign-up link shouldn't have been made public.
How would the public know? Who's responsible?
My wife and I, along with members of our family signed up, only to learn late at night, that cancellation notices were being sent out because the link wasn't authorized. By the way, not one of my family members received the cancellation notice (not even in our junk folder). In fact, people called my radio show on Monday morning who had signed up, received a confirmation email and were wondering if they should still show up for their appointment at the Utica Memorial Auditorium Annex site. They didn't get a cancellation email either. I told them not to show up.
On Thursday, Melissa DeRosa (an aide to Governor Cuomo) said the appointments had been cancelled because it wasn't fair.
“We understand the frustration if somebody got the link not knowing there was devious intent behind how it got out,” DeRosa said as reported by Syracuse.com. “However, as the governor said, there’s 7 million people vying for 250,000 shots and the system to sign up has to be fair. We felt that it was important that we reset those appointments and when they went online this morning to the public, everyone had the same fair shot at getting those appointments.”
Did DeRosa imply that the people who signed up on Wednesday, like my parents and so many others, had some sort of a cheating advantage? Are you kidding me? Yes, it was frustrating for us because we and the rest of the people who signed up were the ones being cheated. She should have referred to us as the innocent victims and it also would have been nice to offer all of those people who signed up some sort of a place in a future line. They all worked very hard to get there in the first place and they certainly didn't cheat to get some unfair advantage. It wasn't their fault New York left the gate to the 2021 treasure unlocked.
Respectfully Governor Cuomo, the way it works in the real world is that we're all out here fighting for the measly small number of vaccine opportunities that are made available unpredictably by your office. I understand, New York State is waiting for shipments from the Feds, but we have to rely on you and our local health departments for communication of an opportunity. There's no-one else to count on because our county governments are being left in the dark.
I'm not sure that you and your staff understand what it's like out here. When a link is released, unless you're sitting at the computer refreshing every minute and all day long- one would have no idea access to the vaccine was made available. There's no EAS alert that goes off informing us all that a mere few hundred vaccine appointments just opened up. The reality is that one person finds out and they share the link and then it spreads like wildfire as it all becomes a race to the website finish line. These access links usually sell out in under 30-minutes. Meanwhile, if you're one of the many people from Upstate without high speed internet, good luck as you sit there watching the curser on your laptop spin. It's worse when you try to sign up from your phone or tablet, and then add to that the fact that so many older people struggle on computers, the whole thing is very frustrating. And by the way, for this group of older people over the age of 65, it's a matter of life or death for them because this virus has been spreading so quickly in our area since October.
DeRosa's implication of a "devious" link that people like me took advantage of is offensive because the fact is, 99-percent of the people that accessed that link were innocent people just trying to get the vaccination in their arm. It is indeed your responsibility to make sure an un-official link to a page, listing a pending vaccination site with actual dates and times, followed up by a Health Department confirmation email, doesn't get out to the general public in the first place. Do you understand the damage caused when something like this happens at a time when people like us are out here so frantically trying to figure out how to get the shot? To make matters worse, miscues like this play into the hands of conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxers.
It's important to repeat that this link wasn't fake. It was a real link sending people to an official NYS Health Department site with an actual location/date/time followed up with an immediate confirmation email that confirmed, yes, you have an official vaccination appointment. It didn't look bogus, because it wasn't. And your answer to the misstep is to just cancel it as if the people signing up were somehow at fault? How about an apology for allowing this to happen? That might be a good first step because when people really look at it, it's a failure at the state level.
Here's a sample statement that DeRosa could have made that would have been much better: "We're sorry to everyone that this mistake occurred. We understand how important the vaccine is to all New Yorkers and mistakes like these are inexcusable. We'll get to the bottom of how this happened, but in the meantime, every eligible New Yorker who signed up will be placed on a waiting list and we'll work to make sure you all get in. Again, on behalf of the Governor, we're very sorry." (And oh, by the way, You could have easily created a standby list because you had ALL of our information)
Three weeks ago, hospitals in New York were being threatened with large fines because you claimed they weren't getting the vaccine out quickly enough. After speaking with hospital officials, they seemed to believe they were doing the best they could given the cards they were dealt. Now we discover that New York has allowed a rogue link to spread like wildfire throughout the state causing havoc in the sign-up process and the State is not to blame? Could the culprit be New Yorker's over the age of 65? I think not.
It's time to look in the mirror and re-think how we're handling vaccination distribution in the Empire State. It's also time to to reconsider the way we as a state deal with mistakes. I've always believed that coming clean works best. Especially when your job is to serve the people.
You're quick to criticize President Trump for his shortcomings, albeit so often well deserved. I say, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. In these difficult times when we all have to make such great sacrifices, a little humility from the Governor and your staff would sure go a long way. It's the least we the people of New York should expect from our government during a horrific pandemic.
I believe a humble change in your approach will make for a great second book on the defeat of COVID-19 in the great State of New York.
Bill Keeler is the morning show host on WIBX's Keeler in the Morning, heard weekdays from 6-9 on WIBX 950 AM and simulcast on WFXV-33 TV.