(CBS News) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that he is prepared to bring legal action against the Trump administration over its proposed COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, saying it could result in unequal distribution to lower income and Black and Brown communities.
“We will fight to make sure every life is protected equally because enough people have died and enough injustice has been done during COVID,” Cuomo said. “It stops now and it stops with this vaccine.”
President Trump said Friday that the federal government is developing a plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to all Americans as soon as April. But he singled out New York — and Cuomo in particular — for calling for an independent panel to review any vaccine before it is distributed in the state.
“As soon as April, the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exceptions of places like New York state where, for political reasons, the governor decided to say, and I don’t think it’s good politically, I think it’s very bad from a health point, but he wants to take his time on the vaccine, he doesn’t trust where the vaccine’s coming from,” Mr. Trump said Friday. “We won’t be delivering it to New York until we have authorization to do so, and that pains me to say that.”
Cuomo and New York Attorney General Letitia James shot back on Friday, with James issuing a statement saying “this is nothing more than vindictive behavior by a lame-duck president trying to extract vengeance on those who oppose his politics.”
But Cuomo took it a step further on Sunday, in remarks at the historic Riverside Church in the Bronx. He said the Trump administration’s plan to distribute the vaccine through private companies would mean that lower income communities — and especially communities of color — would not have access to a vaccine.
Cuomo cited a 1982 ruling that affirms that denial of rights to an isolated group is an affront to the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. He said New York is prepared to join the National Urban League and the NAACP in a lawsuit to change the distribution plan.
“If the Trump administration does not change this plan and does not provide an equitable vaccine process, we will enforce our legal rights,” Cuomo said. “We will bring legal action to protect New Yorkers.”
Cuomo used a “low tide” analogy, saying that COVID-19 exposed the “ugliness and flaws deep down in our society.”
“COVID was low tide and we saw our ugliness,” Cuomo said. “The truth is COVID is not the only virus attacking us. We are being attacked by other viruses. COVID weakened our immune system and when your immune system is weakened, you are attacked by other viruses. And that’s what happened to America.”
Cuomo highlighted the inequality in what Americans were infected with COVID-19, saying it exposed the “systemic inequality.”
As COVID-19 cases are surging nationwide, there has been an increase in New York as well, which was epicenter of the epidemic in the spring. Cuomo had previously said schools would close if the region reached a rate of 3% of tests coming back positive. Although the rate in New York City, the nation’s largest school district, has hovered near 3% all week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that the rate had dipped and schools could remain open for now.