Updated at 12 p.m. ET
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed that he will not take the COVID-19 vaccine until it is available for his group in Black, Hispanic and poor communities around his state.
Cuomo spoke about the “many injustices in our society” that the pandemic has exposed, while also calling out racism as a public health crisis, during pre-recorded remarks on Sunday to Abyssinian Baptist Church, a historic Black church in Harlem.
“COVID killed Black people in this country at two times the rate of white people, and Hispanic people at one-and-a-half times the rate of white people,” Cuomo said.
“Testing for COVID was more available in richer, whiter communities, and the infection rate was higher in Black, Hispanic and poor communities. This can’t happen again, and it can’t happen with this vaccine.”
The governor called the vaccine rollout a pressing challenge for the state but promised that it will be done in an equitable way.
“Race or income will not determine who lives and who dies,” Cuomo said. “I move around a lot and come into contact with many people and I would feel much safer if I took the vaccine, but I will not take the vaccine until the vaccine is available for my group in Black, Hispanic and poor communities around the state.”
In the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, priority has been placed on health care workers. Continuing distribution is expected to be based on factors such as age, type of employment and health conditions. It wasn’t immediately clear what “group” Cuomo was referring to.
He also urged the state’s residents to get the vaccine when it becomes more widely available to the general public, saying that between 70% and 90% of New Yorkers need to be vaccinated in order for it to be effective.
Cuomo also noted a long history of mistrust when it comes mass public health programs, particularly among Black Americans.
He referred to the Tuskegee Experiment, which began in the 1930s when researchers studied the effects of untreated syphilis on hundreds of Black men. Researchers lied to the subjects, saying the program was studying “bad blood.”
“The Tuskegee Experiment is a terrible stain on the soul of this nation,” he said. “The system does have biases and injustices. But that is not true in the case of this vaccine.”
Cuomo’s administration has created a task force led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is Black, and New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who is Puerto Rican, to ensure that the vaccine is available “to everyone, everywhere” in the state.
The goal of the task force is to connect areas of the state that have been largely left to fend for themselves to handle the impacts of the virus, NPR member station WBFO in Buffalo, N.Y., reported last month. Cuomo hopes it will become a model for other parts of the country for an impartial approach to vaccine outreach.
Cuomo vowing not to get the vaccine, for now, appears to run counter to how many other politicians are approaching inoculation from COVID-19.
In mid-December, Vice President Pence, second lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams all went before cameras at the White House to get their first doses of the vaccine. It was billed as an effort to show that the vaccine was safe.
Some members of Congress, from both parties, have also gotten the first round of the vaccine, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.