Cuomo asks to buy COVID-19 vaccines directly from Pfizer, in what could be a first

New York governor has taken heat for his state's coronavirus vaccine rollout

After taking heat for his state's coronavirus vaccine rollout, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he asked Pfizer about the state buying doses of the vaccine directly.

Cuomo said New York would be the first to buy directly vaccine doses from a drugmaker; states have so far been receiving supply from the federal government.

"The problem was created by the federal negligence in the first place," the Democratic governor said at a press conference on Monday. "The federal government is in control of the supply. They must increase the supply. Approve Johnson & Johnson, expedite that. Buy more Pfizer. Buy more Moderna."

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"As a state, we're trying to do everything we can," he continued. "Pfizer is technically not bound by any federal agreement because they did not get engaged in what the federal government called Operation Warp Speed. ... Pfizer is a New York company, they're headquartered here, and I sent a letter asking if New York could buy directly from Pfizer."

In the letter to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Cuomo said New York will receive 250,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine this week, which is 50,000 fewer than the week before.

"Shifting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drove the number of New Yorkers eligible and prioritized for the vaccine from 5 million to 7 million practically overnight," Cuomo wrote. "The federal administration essentially opened up a floodgate while cutting our supply - leading to confusion, frustration, and dashed hopes."

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Cuomo's announcement comes after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed frustration with the governor's vaccine eligibility rules earlier in January. De Blasio's plan to vaccinate the New York Police Department was struck down.

According to New York's original guidelines, the first tier of the vaccines were to be distributed to high-risk hospital workers, EMS workers, urgent care providers, residents and staff at nursing homes – among a few other select groups.

Pfizer told FOX Business in a statement that the company is "open to collaborating" with the Department of Health and Human Services on a "distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible."

However, Pfizer noted that before selling directly to state governments, HHS would need to approve the proposal based on the emergency use authoritzation granted to Pfizer by the Food and Drug Administration.

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In an effort to speed up COVID-19 vaccination efforts, the Trump administration asked states to widen distribution to include people ages 65 and older, and others who are at high risk for severe illness by releasing second doses that were previously being reserved for those who already had the first shot.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended his department’s work during an interview with "America's Newsroom" on Fox News Monday. Over 31 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed to states, and 14 million have been administered as of Friday, Azar said. More than 900,000 vaccinations are administered per day, he added.

Pharmacy director Dana Rucco, center, shows medical director Richard Schwarz the container used to deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, at the Jewish Medical Center, in the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Le

"There was always going to be a ramp-up here," Azar said. "It was always going to be part of scaling up. But the key is having those doses available."

Azar said most governors have rolled out these doses effectively in their states, but that some have struggled.

"You've got some governors who are, frankly, the ones who are failing," Azar said, citing Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as states that have administered 50% or less of vaccine doses received. "They're failing and they're just looking for somebody else to blame here."

If all 50 states begin attempting to buy directly, it could set off a bidding war similar to what was seen at the beginning of the pandemic where states were battling each other for medical supplies.

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Fox News' Caleb Parke, Alexandria Hein, Roman Chiarello and Fox Business' Brittany De Lea and Lucas Manfredi contributed to this report.