New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo penned a letter Tuesday calling for U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to alter an upcoming COVID-19 vaccination program he says would inadequately serve “Black, Brown, Asian and low-income communities.” 

Further, Cuomo said, the program contains specific requirements that could dissuade undocumented immigrants from getting vaccinated, which would hamper efforts to contain the virus.

Cuomo wrote that while full participation of Americans is clearly critical to the success of a COVID-19 vaccination effort, he remains “deeply troubled” by the agency’s “failure” to aid those underserved by private healthcare facilities. 


“The COVID infection and death rates are significantly higher in these communities, and failure to provide these communities with an adequate vaccination program, whether by intent or effect, will further discriminate against these communities,” he urged.

In addition, Cuomo blasted the federal government’s requirement that a “Data Sharing Agreement” — including Social Security numbers, driver’s license identification numbers, and passport numbers — be executed by state governments before beginning the vaccination program.

“This provision obviously raises concerns, as the proposed criteria are all proxies for proof of citizenship. The concern is exacerbated by an additional federal provision in the Data Sharing Agreement specifically providing that the information could be shared with other federal agencies, i.e., the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” he wrote. “If undocumented Americans are dissuaded from participating in the vaccination program, it would jeopardize both their health and the efficacy of the entire vaccination program.”

The governor proposed several modifications to address the issues, including an identification system that does not share the aforementioned personal information with the federal government and mandates any vaccination identification information not be shared with any other non-health agency.

“The undocumented community has specific and valid cause for concern in providing unnecessary, irrelevant, and sensitive information to federal agencies,” the governor concluded.

According to data from the Pew Research Center, there are more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, making up almost a quarter of the total immigrant population.

Data from 2017 showed around 725,000 immigrants currently resides in New York State, which has a population of over 19.4 million.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports that during the coronavirus pandemic 647,980 New Yorkers have become infected with the virus and more than 34,600 people have died.

Cuomo’s plea to Azar was backed by a coalition of advocacy groups including the NAACP, National Urban League, Hispanic Health Network & Latino Commission on AIDS Inc., Asian American Community Empowerment, Arab-American Family Support Center, Worker Justice Center of New York and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.


“We are quickly moving toward a COVID-19 vaccine, which is good news. However, the federal government’s current plan to vaccinate Americans neglects key priorities that we need to effectively distribute the vaccine to millions of New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement. 

“Time is of the essence as we get closer to the distribution date and I urge the administration to address these issues quickly,” he said.

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