In an echo of the Cuomo administration’s stonewalling on nursing home data, the governor’s office has for a third time delayed releasing records of its vaccine review panel, this time until mid-April.

The seven-member Clinical Advisory Task Force, appointed by Governor Cuomo last September, has reportedly vouched for the safety of all three vaccines given emergency authorization by the FDA—most recently recommending the Johnson & Johnson version on March 1.

Yet the governor’s office has so far failed to produce any records of the panel’s activities—including the times and places of its meetings, the names of those who attended, the standards of review it applied, the research it considered, minutes of its discussions or tallies of its votes.

The secrecy surrounding the panel would seem to undermine its stated purpose—which was to reassure New Yorkers who distrusted the FDA’s judgment, especially under President Trump.

Cuomo cited the panel at an appearance in Harlem on Wednesday when he spoke about vaccine doubts among African-Americans.

“They’re saying, ‘I don’t trust the Trump Administration when it says it’s safe,'” Cuomo said. “By the way, I’m with them. I didn’t trust the Trump Administration when he said the vaccine is safe. But we put together a New York State panel—all the best doctors we have. They reviewed it, and they say it’s safe.”

The FDA conducts its vaccine reviews largely in public, based on established laws and regulations and published research.

Cuomo’s vaccine panel, by contrast, has apparently conducted all of its business in private without issuing written recommendations or statements of any kind. The only word of its judgments has come from the governor himself, who has briefly announced its approvals without elaboration. 

The Empire Center filed a Freedom of Information request for records of the panel’s deliberations on Dec. 23, after its reported approval of two vaccines. The state has postponed responding three times, first to Feb. 16, then to March 16, and now to April 13.

“Please be advised that we require additional time to complete our response to your FOIL requests dated December 23, 2020,” wrote the FOIL counsel of the governor’s office, Jaclyn Clemmer, in a letter Tuesday afternoon. “We will provide you with a status update on or before April 13, 2021, if we have not completed our response by then.”

The delay is consistent with the Cuomo administration’s pattern of foot-dragging on FOIL requests, especially with respect to its pandemic response. Last August, the Empire Center sought a complete count of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents, but didn’t receive the data until six months later—after filing a lawsuit and winning a court order. 

The long delay came to be seen as a cover-up, especially after a late January report from Attorney General Letitia James faulted the Health Department for undercounting nursing home deaths.

In her ruling on the Empire Center’s FOIL case, state Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor determined that the Health Department had violated FOIL by not providing a valid reason for its delays and not providing a hard deadline for when the records would be produced.

The governor’s office would seem to be repeating those violations with respect to the vaccine panel. Its letter gave no explanation for an almost four-month delay—beyond saying that some employees “may be working off-site” due to the pandemic. It also gave no firm deadline for completing the request, only a day when it would provide a “status update.”

About the Author

Bill Hammond

As the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond tracks fast-moving developments in New York’s massive health care industry, with a focus on how decisions made in Albany and Washington affect the well-being of patients, providers, taxpayers and the state’s economy.

Read more by Bill Hammond

You may also like

The Public Can Now See the Vaccine Task Force Recommendations that the Cuomo Administration Held Back

Even as Governor Cuomo touted vaccine approvals by a state-appointed panel of experts, his office was withholding the group's detailed findings from public view. The governor's six- Read More

New York’s Medicaid and Public Health Crises Get Short Shrift in the New State Budget

In spite of an ongoing pandemic and spiraling Medicaid costs, New York's health-care system received surprisingly little attention in the new state budget. On issue after issue, law Read More

Empire State’s new budget is a bridge to nowhere

Looking ahead to an uncertain post-pandemic recovery, New York’s newly enacted state budget for fiscal year 2022 raises spending by staggering amounts that—barring an unlikely rapid return to peak 2019 economic activity in New York City—can't possibly be sustained for more than a few years. The budget is a mid-2020s fiscal disaster in the making: an incomplete bridge over a deepening river of red ink. Read More

New York Lags in COVID-19 Vaccinations for Older Residents

In the race to vaccinate its oldest and most vulnerable residents, New York has fallen behind. Although the state's overall COVID-19 vaccination rate is somewhat higher than the nat Read More

Lawmakers Mull Medicaid Proposals That Would Speed New York Toward a Fiscal Cliff

As a budget deal nears in Albany, reining in spiraling Medicaid costs seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind. Governor Cuomo is advancing only Read More

Tax hike and huge spending increase seem likely in next NY budget

New York state today began its 2022 fiscal year without an adopted budget—which, in itself, is not a big deal. The state government can continue to pay bills and employee salaries next week if either final appropriations Read More

NY’s trek back to economic normalcy still far behind the rest of U.S.

New York has a lot riding on the pace of business reopening and resumption of normal activities in the coming months. Read More

Cuomo Pushes Budget Change Sought by Hospital Group Implicated in Pandemic Scandals

A hospital lobbying group at the heart of scandals plaguing the Cuomo administration is again getting the governor's help in pushing a late change to the state budget. Aides to Gove Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo "...the Empire Center is the think tank that spent months trying to pry Covid data out of Mr. Cuomo's government, which offered a series of unbelievable excuses for its refusal to disclose...five months after it (the Empire Center) sued, Team Cuomo finally started coughing up some of the records." -Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021

SIGN UP TO READ ABOUT THE ISSUES IMPACTING NEW YORKERS.