NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Many 9/11 first responders are still waiting for their COVID vaccine shots, despite having preexisting conditions including battles with cancers, lung diseases and other ailments that put them at greater risk.
Many are not yet eligible, while healthy New Yorkers are, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Thursday.
"We all had a baseline of being healthy and now, now we're devastated," said retired NYPD member Tom Wilson, who is battling mouth cancer years after rushing to the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Rich Palmer, a retired New York City corrections officer, did the same. And he's paying the price.
"I have major heart issues. I have asthma," said Palmer.
Heroes like Wilson and Palmer are fighting for their chance to just get on line for a COVID vaccine.
Their average age is 59, too young to join the 65 and up group, which is filling vaccine timeslots for months.
"We are relying on a vaccination to prolong our already shortened life. This is disturbing," said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation.
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Feal, a construction worker turned advocate, said they can't afford to wait behind healthy New Yorkers.
"We are demanding that these men and women, uniformed and non-uniformed, get vaccinated. It's that simple. They will die without the vaccination," Feal said.
It's been more than two weeks since Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the green light to those 65 and over for the vaccine, promising those with underlying illnesses would be added as soon as CDC guidance is issued.
New Jersey already gave the green light to people who have certain health conditions, including smokers.
In a statement, the New York Health Department said:
We continue to do everything possible to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as quickly as possible. Currently over 7 million New Yorkers are eligible for the vaccine, but our weekly allocation of doses from the federal government was cut without any explanation. We are encouraged by the new administration's announcement that we will get 16 percent greater allocation, and we hope to continue to receive more doses and guidance on this issue.
Deciding who goes first and who must wait for the vaccine is an ethical issue with grave consequences, according to Martine Hackett, a public health expert with Hofstra University.
"Once the door was opened to anyone 65 and older, and you add that on top of that there was a limit to the amount of vaccines that are available, that really causes not only an ethical dilemma, but it also causes people to distrust the overall system," Hackett said.
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The first responders are being told to wait for more vaccines to come in.
Retired FDNY Lieutenant Mike O'Connell, who has an autoimmune disease from his service, says everyone with compromised health deserves and equal shot.
"Not just for first responders. Anybody that has preexisting conditions," O'Connell said.
Sixty more 9/11 first responders have died in the pandemic. Advocates are asking leaders in Albany to act fast before more names are added to a memorial wall.
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