7M NYers Eligible for Vaccine as Waits Stretch to Mid-April; Cuomo Reports 2nd UK Strain Cluster

As more major vaccine hubs open in New York, New Jersey's governor expanded vaccine eligibility to people age 65+ and to people age 16-64 with medical conditions that increase risk of severe COVID-related illness

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York now has 15 lab-confirmed cases of the UK variant; two of those are in the city (Manhattan, Queens). Both NYC cases were diagnosed in December; 1 had UK travel history
  • The concern is that higher infection rates from more transmissible strains could overwhelm the hospital system; NY hospitalizations are on the verge of topping 9,000 for the 1st time since May 5
  • At the same time, eligibility has expanded to those 65+; Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city will run out of vaccine doses at some point next week without a "major" resupply above what it expects delivered

More than 7 million New Yorkers can now register to get their first doses at a growing number of COVID-19 vaccination hubs across the city and state, but if you're one of the eligible people you'll likely find yourself waiting quite a while.

Getting an appointment could take 14 weeks or longer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says. The state's weekly vaccine allocation hasn't expanded in accordance with eligibility. About 5 million more have earned eligibility just since Monday.

The state only gets 300,000 doses a week. At that rate, it would take half a year just to vaccinate the people who are currently eligible.

Cuomo approved vaccine eligibility for those 65 and older on Tuesday in accordance with new CDC guidelines, which he says were rushed by rising U.S. hospitalization and death rates and threats of more contagious variants.

New York had confirmed 15 of the UK strain as of Wednesday, an increase of three in 24 hours and nearly double the number the governor reported on Saturday. Six of the cases have been linked to the Saratoga Springs jewelry store where the first lab-confirmed case in New York was found and another three cases are being investigated for possible connections to that original cluster.

A second cluster of UK strain cases has emerged and includes two cases in Suffolk County, two cases in Nassau County and one in Queens. The variant has also been detected in a Manhattan resident and isn't connected to either cluster. At his briefing earlier Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said both of the city cases were diagnosed in late December and one patient had recently traveled to the UK.

De Blasio said the CDC's decision to require negative COVID tests for all inbound international travelers Tuesday falls short; he called once again for an immediate travel ban from the United Kingdom to the United States for a period of time.

"Flights from the United Kingdom should be canceled immediately by the federal government," de Blasio said. The city needs more time to shore up protection via mass vaccinations, he says.

Amid the rollout frustration nationally, vaccine distribution and administration has become a local point of contention -- and the first subject in some time on which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are at outright odds.Tracie Strahan and Katherine Creag report.

Even as Cuomo expanded eligibility once again Tuesday, he did so warily, urging hospital workers still get top priority. Cuomo and de Blasio had feuded all last week over whether to even open up eligibility to NYPD personnel. Since then, millions beyond them became eligible -- and tens of thousands of those people want to be next in line for shots.

According to de Blasio, the city will run out of vaccine doses at some point next week unless it gets a "major" resupply -- a warning eerily reminiscent of his comments on ventilators as the pandemic exploded in the city in early April.

He also asked for the feds to release the second doses reserved for New York City, which President-elect Joe Biden has supported.

"Holding back vaccine when we have tens of thousands of New Yorkers ready to be vaccinated right now makes no sense at all," de Blasio said.

When Could I Get the Vaccine?

Answer the questions to calculate your risk profile and see where you fall in your county's and state's vaccine lineup. This estimate is based on a combination of vaccine rollout recommendations from the CDC and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

For a more detailed breakdown of who is included in each priority group, see this methodology.
Source: the Vaccine Allocation Planner for COVID-19 by Ariadne Labs and the Surgo Foundation
Interactive by Amy O’Kruk/NBC

New York state only first opened up eligibility to its second and most populous vaccination group, Phase 1B, on Monday. That group is made up of roughly 3.2 million people age 75 and older (a group that accounted for a vastly disproportionate share of hospitalizations and deaths over the last month in New York City), education and public transit and safety workers and first responders.

More groups were added to 1B within a day of its rollout, including shelter workers and residents and public-facing grocery store workers. De Blasio wants food delivery workers to get the green light next, though he admitted there may not be enough doses in New York City.

As of Tuesday, the most recent data available, the five boroughs had received 75 percent of the 885,325 doses reserved for it. It has administered less than 36 percent of the doses it has received -- 216,014 for first shots and 23,310 for second doses. That gap is partially what sparked last week's vaccine feud between the governor and the mayor. Cuomo argued the city, among other municipalities, wasn't doing enough to "get shots in arms," while de Blasio insisted the reason for the gap was the state's refusal to open eligibility to more groups.

That picture has changed drastically in just the last few days, and the rate of vaccine shots in New York City appears to have increased substantially.

The city isn't the only place where vaccines are in short supply. On Long Island, Nassau County's only public hospital is expected to run out of dosages very soon, meaning they will have to turn away seniors, police officers and more. While there are thousands of vaccination appointments booked at Nassau University Medical Center, it is unclear when the vaccine supply will be replenished. The situation is worse in Suffolk County, where one vaccination hub was empty for the third consecutive day Wednesday

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, as new vaccine sites open across New York City. Katherine Creag reports.

As they wait on the federal government to boost the vaccine supply, city and state officials are working to shore up a vast vaccine distribution network, with 4,000 sites planned across the state and 250 expected in the city by month's end.

Three new state-run sites opened Wednesday -- one at the Javits Center in Manhattan, another at Westchester County Center in White Plains and a third at the New York State Fair Expo Center in Syracuse. By Saturday, two more will have opened in Queens (Jones Beach) and Albany (SUNY campus).

State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker was on hand for Wednesday's opening at the Javits Center, the former field hospital now converted into a mass vaccination machine where more than 100 MTA employees were given their first dosages. Ultimately, that hub will have the capacity to do 10,000 vaccinations in 12 hours and up to 25,000 in 24 hours, he said. Appointments must be made in advance.

New Jersey announced Wednesday it will open up eligibility for the COVID vaccine to those 65 years old and older. Meanwhile, the Javits Center opens up as a 24/7 mass vaccination site. Katherine Creag reports.

"This is a wartime effort. This is the largest vaccine operation in New York state," Zucker said, and amplified ongoing calls for additional supply from the feds.

Fifteen more state-run sites are expected to be announced in the coming days, Cuomo said. He also plans to use doctors' offices, qualified health centers, county health departments as administration points. More than 732,000 vaccines were administered through Wednesday afternoon, an increase of 67,000 over the previous day.

Not sure how the process works? Check here for a list of vaccine sites in the tri-state area and details on how to register if you're eligible for shots

New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

On top of those, 1,200-plus pharmacies have committed to participating in the network as well, with nearly 400 scheduled to come online this week, Cuomo said. The pharmacies will work with the eligible 65-plus population, while hospitals will continue to vaccine health workers in the first phase, 1A, of the rollout. Local health department and union-organized efforts will focus on group 1B.

New York City-run sites abound as well. De Blasio says a new 24/7 mega vaccination site will open Jan. 25 at Citi Field with the ability to vaccinate up to 7,000 people a day. On Wednesday, de Blasio said the city was also working on a plan with the Yankees to use that stadium as a mass vaccination site.

Twenty-four-hour centers have already opened up in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan with another opening Wednesday at Gotham Health on Staten Island. Later this month, NYC Health & Hospitals will open one in Corona, Queens, and another will open at Staten Island's Empire Outlets. To date, the city has established more than 160 vaccine access points to date.

De Blasio aims to hit 250 by the end of January as part of his mission to give initial doses to at least 1 million New Yorkers before this month wraps. The mayor says the city is on pace to hit that, provided the fed supply meets the demand.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


The opening of new sites comes amid some confusion on the part of those eligible to receive shots. There are questions about basic eligibility as well as how to ensure an appointment at any point in the near future.

Bernard Macias, AARP’s associate state director for Long Island, said the big issue is clear instructions about signing up for vaccinations. He said AARP is directing members to the state health department’s website and hotline, but many who go online find booked appointments into March, or even into the summer.

New York's vaccine rollout expanded to include the 1B group. That means another 3.2 million people can sign up to get their first dose. NBC New York's Andrew Siff reports.

That was part of the point Cuomo made in his telebriefing with reporters.

"If you don't have the vaccines to give them, I don't know what opening up eligibility does," said Cuomo. “Now we have 7 million people eligible, and we still have a drip, drip, drip from the faucet of federal dosage availability at 300,000.”

Accelerating the vaccine process has become a mission of ever-increasing urgency for both Cuomo and de Blasio, as the feared holiday COVID surge and the threat of more contagious variants propel virus numbers to their highest rates since May. New York state has also set a number of new single-day pandemic case highs in the last week, a sign the battle against COVID remains far from won.

In neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday he would expand access the following day to all people aged 65 and older as well as to people between the ages of 16 and 64 with medical conditions, as defined by the CDC, that increase risk of severe illness from COVID.

At the same time, the state set yet another new single-day pandemic case record (6,922 new positive PCR tests and another 1,265 positive antigen tests for a total of 8,187) as Murphy added another 20 or so hospitalizations to the count (3,726).

Brian Thompson sits down with Gov. Phil Murphy to talk about the state's COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

So far, New Jersey has dosed about 265,000 people, about 40 percent of the doses the CDC says it has received. Nearly 30,000 nursing home residents and staff have received first shots, while 220 clinics have completed vaccinations.

Murphy wants to have nearly 5 million New Jerseyeans inoculated by June. He said he's more confident about the federal supply as the Biden administration nears and hopes the tide will have turned by summer's start.

But for now, supply remains an issue. In Bergen County, for example, there is a waiting list of 37,000 people who have pre-registered, including police and fire personnel. At the moment, the county has just 1,000 doses or fewer on hand. County officials are pleased to have so much interest from the 65+ age group, when the governor gives the official OK, but says they'll have to get in line.

For his part, Cuomo is concerned the healthcare system could be overwhelmed well before that time -- and that's the line he has drawn in the sand. If emerging coronavirus strains fuel heightened rates of infection at this crucially vulnerable time for the state and city, he has said the vaccination program likely won't be able to keep up with the rate of viral spread. That, he says, means "game over."

Hospitals in New York are required to notify the state if they are within 21 days of hitting 85 percent capacity. If that happens, the economic shutdown mechanisms start to churn.

Thus far, no hospital in the state has notified health officials it is at risk of hitting that threshold. But hospitalization numbers in New York are continuing to rise. As of Wednesday, Cuomo reported a total of 8,929 COVID patients in hospitals. The state hasn't topped 9,000 total admissions since May 5. Daily deaths have risen at a slower rate but will continue to increase after hospitalizations plateau.

New York City reported 279 new admissions Wednesday, its highest daily number amid this latest surge, as the rolling hospitalization rate per 100,000 residents hit 4.62. The seven-day rolling positivity rate, though, has leveled off after peaking above 9 percent about a week ago. It now stands at 8.4 percent, according to city data de Blasio shared Wednesday, a hopeful sign the latest surge is ebbing.

The ongoing battles in New York and New Jersey are deeply reflective of a national crisis that continues to worsen practically unabated in a number of states. California's hospitals are stretched beyond the max. In Los Angeles, the most populous county in California and in America, coronavirus is killing someone roughly every 15 minutes, forcing hospitals to make hard decisions.

The U.S. counted 214,764 COVID-19 cases and 2,105 reported deaths Sunday. The 2.4 million cases logged so far in January is more than any other month except November's 4.3 million and December's 6.4 million. In all, more than 22.4 million have been infected and 374,000-plus have died of the disease, according to NBC News' tally. At least 50 cases of the more contagious variant have been identified so far in the U.S.

Nationally, the immediate outlook remains grim, even as President-elect Joe Biden vows to ramp up a federal vaccination program that has been widely criticized from the start.

The United States reported more than 4,300 coronavirus deaths Tuesday, the deadliest day of the pandemic to date. It's the second time in the last week COVID-19 fatalities have topped 4,000 in a single day in the country.

January, as officials feared, is on pace to overtake December as the deadliest month of the pandemic in the U.S.; nearly 35,000 people have died in the U.S. so far this month. And there are more than two weeks left to go.

To date, more than 375,000 U.S. lives have been lost to a virus that was just beginning to make consistent headlines in the country this time last year. Total cases topped 23 million on Wednesday, according to NBC News data, as Texas became the second state behind California to breach the 2 million mark.

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