What to Know
- Tri-state governors are offering Pfizer's vaccine to kids age 12-15 as of Thursday, a day after the CDC OK'd the FDA's recommendation to authorize the regimen for emergency use for that age group
- Vaccination rates have plunged across the board, and officials say they are still focusing efforts on those aged 16-40 while also working with pediatricians and schools to educate parents on shots for kids
- NY has rolled out a new suite of incentives -- free train rides, hot tickets and more -- to encourage the less motivated to get shots as the state reports a drop of 34% in vaccination rates over the last month alone
The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut say their states began vaccinating kids aged 12 to 15 as of Thursday after the CDC accepted the FDA's emergency-use authorization for adolescents, though none of them appeared immediately prepared to address the agency's surprise update on indoor masks.
There was no immediate local response Thursday to the CDC's revision of its indoor mask guidance for fully vaccinated people, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Phil Murphy have both previously said they would consider revising state guidelines on that as well as social distancing should the feds modify their recommendations.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said the state would follow the CDC guidance and will no longer require masks indoors for those fully vaccinated starting May 19 — the same date the governor is lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including size limits and social distancing rules for businesses, such as large event venues, bars and nightclubs. However, those who are immuno-compromised are advised to still wear their masks.
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Following his scheduled coronavirus briefing earlier in the day, a spokesperson for Murphy's office told News 4 the governor was "not ready to make an announcement yet," regarding the CDC change. Cuomo issued a statement that said the state has "always relied on the facts and the science to guide us throughout the worst of this pandemic and in our successful reopening. We have received the newly revised guidance from the CDC regarding mask wearing and social distancing for those with vaccinations and are reviewing them in consultation with Dr. Zucker and our partners and health experts in surrounding states."
The New York governor immediately adopted the CDC's revised guidance on outdoor masks for fully vaccinated people when the agency announced it just about two weeks ago. He has continued to urge all people to mask up indoors, though.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a similar statement, calling it a "monumental day in the fight against COVID" but not saying the city was ready to adopt such policies yet.
"We are reviewing the guidance because masks will still be important for schools, public transportation, healthcare and congregate settings and more," the mayor's statement read. "But the message is clear: vaccinations are the way to bring our city, our lives, back. Get vaccinated. It's safe, effective and millions of your neighbors have been vaccinated already. We have come so far — now we will reach the finish line together."
At the time the new outdoor mask guidance dropped, New York City leaders expressed some concern, saying the density of the five boroughs presents some particular challenges. It wasn't immediately clear how they'd address the change.
While some were happy to hear the news, some New Yorkers said they weren't ready to stop wearing their masks quite yet.
"I'm still going to wear it until I see more people not wearing it. Until I get comfortable," said Princess Cruz, on the Upper West Side. Other said they will still keep their masks handy, just in case.
In the meantime, de Blasio and others remain laser-focused on getting eligible people vaccinated who haven't yet taken the step. Motivating the less motivated has proven to be a challenge across the board, prompting officials to roll out a slate of incentives ranging from free transit to hot tickets and yes, free beer.
De Blasio added a new component to the city's growing list of offerings Thursday. His latest appeal targets people's stomachs -- and rewards not just those who get vaccinated in the coming weeks but those who have already had their shots.
For the rest of the month, people who show their CDC-issued vaccine cards at any of the 25 Shake Shacks in the city will get a free side of fries, the fast-food shack's CEO announced Thursday. And if you get vaccinated at one of the city's mobile vaccine clinics over the next few days, you'll earn a voucher for a free burger or sandwich to use whenever your heart (or stomach) desires.
It's the latest push to get shots in arms as New York and the rest of the U.S. prepare to tackle the youngest eligible population yet. Gov. Cuomo authorized all providers in the state's COVID-19 vaccination program to expand eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to New Yorkers age 12 and up after a state task force and health officials opted to support the CDC's approval of the two-dose regimen for kids.
That change takes effect immediately, Cuomo said, and he is urging parents all over the state to get their kids dosed as soon as they can.
"Getting people vaccinated is everything," the governor said. "Children under the age of 18 now account for more than 20 percent of new cases in this country, and vaccine authorization for a younger population will allow the state to continue its tremendous progress towards winning the war against COVID."
New York City health officials and national pharmacy chain CVS previously said they were prepared to start vaccinating kids 12-15. More detailed plans on reaching that age group -- or their parents, most importantly, who must provide consent -- are expected to be revealed at Mayor Bill de Blasio's daily briefing later Thursday.
Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use among kids aged 12-17 in the U.S. It's all the brand of which the city and state have the most stable supply. Nearly 62% of New York state-run mass vaccine sites only use the Pfizer vaccine.
The rest use Johnson & Johnson. The city's vaccine finder website, vaccinefinder.nyc.gov, has already been updated to show that Pfizer vaccines are now available for the youngest newly eligible age group.
Pharmacies are on board early, too. CVS says kids ages 12 to 15 can get vaccinated at any of more than 365 of its locations across New York. Parents or guardians have to provide consent for vaccination, and children must be accompanied by an adult. In the city, kids age 12-15 need parental consent, but that can come via an in-person visit, phone conversation or a signed form, officials have said.
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
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
NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi says more than 250 sites in the city offer the Pfizer vaccine, including the American Museum of Natural History, neighborhood pharmacies and pop-up sites. The sites are also taking walk-ins, he added, while non-residents can get vaccinated in the city for free as well.
The health department is also working with pediatricians to prepare them to answer vaccine questions about kids. Chokshi said health officials are also working with the Department of Education to ensure parents and young adults are educated.
The latest development means a swath of young people could be vaccinated before New York schools return to "full strength" in September, as Mayor de Blasio has said they would. When asked whether the city would mandate vaccinations for teachers and students, de Blasio didn't hesitate: "No across the board."
"We are seeing extraordinary success right now in our schools and that was before we were able to vaccinate our kids," he added. "Schools have been incredibly safe because of that gold standard of safety measures we put together. We look forward to welcoming back every single student. I think that's the right way to go about it."
One New York City school, SAR Academy in the Bronx, says it plans to vaccinate 300 students age 12 to 15 on Thursday. It says it was the first school in the area to close its doors early in the pandemic because of an initial outbreak.
COVID Vaccine & Kids
More education centers may soon follow suit. Cuomo has suggested high schools start bussing kids of eligible age to vaccine sites as he looks to shore up a vaccine rollout that has seen rates plunge by 34% since April 12.
Vaccination rates have dropped nationally, too. The initial mad crash of people desperate to get vaccinated has ebbed substantially, leaving it to elected and community officials and others to try to convince those more hesitant or unmotivated.
Just 11% of people who remain unvaccinated say they definitely will get the shot, while 34% say they definitely won't, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
That leaves a bounty of Americans in the middle who might still roll up their sleeves — including 27% who say they probably will and 27% who say they probably won't — if someone credible addressed their concerns.
New Jersey says it will also begin inoculating 12-15-year-olds starting Thursday following the CDC's recommendation. Gov. Murphy described the development as a "big step forward for public health -- in particular, for the health of our school communities." His health commissioner encouraged parents to speak with their pediatricians if they have additional questions or concerns about the Pfizer shot.
The state of Connecticut is expected to start dosing those newly eligible Thursday as well. President Joe Biden issued a national message suggesting all states do the same.
Pfizer's two-dose vaccine was found to be 100% effective in the clinical trial of 12- to 15-year-olds. The most commonly reported side effects were pain at the injection site and in joints and muscles, tiredness, headache, chills and fever, Pfizer scientist Dr. John Perez told the CDC panel. Those usually resolved within one to two days, he said.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The expansion was announced exactly a week to the day that New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will take their biggest leap so far in their pandemic recoveries. The tri-states will lift nearly all remaining business restrictions on May 19, paving the way for the closest return to normal in more than 14 months.
Indoor mask mandates will remain in effect across the board at that time, while New York and New Jersey will still employ social distancing in cases where people at an event are unvaccinated. Increasingly, New York is debuting vaccinated-only sections in places like Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and Nassau Colisseum, where the New York Islanders will play a home playoff game later this month.
The dedicated vaccinated-only sections increase capacity because they don't require social distancing, meaning more fans in the stands and more revenue for those who own them. Cuomo has said New York state will pilot reduced social distancing at indoor venues -- like Broadway theaters -- by June 19 to try to boost capacity as well.
While the governor has said the May 19 "full reopening" will allow most businesses to reopen at 100% capacity, that 100% capacity still comes with the caveat of social distancing. So businesses will be limited in that sense for now.
The CDC has suggested it is open to changing its suggested distance from 6 feet to 3 feet as more Americans get vaccinated and core viral rates keep dropping.
To date, 45.1% of U.S. adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, while 71.9% of those 65 and older can say the same -- a ratio that officials say have sent the most critical COVID metrics, hospitalizations and deaths, plunging across the board.
National vaccination rates for younger people pale in comparison to those for older Americans. CDC data shows just 11.3% of U.S. residents age 18-29 are fully vaccinated, while the same can be said for just 1% of residents younger than 18. The latter should see a fair boost in the coming weeks with the new Pfizer eligibility.
The trend -- where those aged 50 to 74 have the highest vaccination rates -- is reflected at the state level, too. In New York, 50.4% of the population age 18 and up is fully vaccinated, though the vast majority of that count is within the 65-74 (74.7% fully vaccinated) and 55-64 (61.1% fully vaccinated) age groups. Just 27.3% of New Yorkers age 16-25 are fully inoculated (the vast majority of these people age 18 and older), while 37.5% of those aged 26-34 say the same.
In New York City, 47.3% of those 18 and older are fully vaccinated. Just 25.5% of city residents age 16-25 are fully inoculated (again, that percentage scales toward those 18-plus), while 37.9% of those 26-34 have completed their shot series.
Over in neighboring New Jersey, people age 18-29 account for just 11% of total doses administered in the state to date, while people age 16-17 are 1%.
Aside from the incentives, vaccination campaigns across the tri-state area have focused on making the process as simple as possible.
New York and New Jersey have all made their government-run vaccine sites available to walk-ins of any eligible age, which eliminates excuses and access issues that Cuomo says may give some people pause.
Starting Thursday, de Blasio said the mass vaccination site at the Mets' Citi Field would add a drive-thru option in hopes of reaching those who prefer to stay in their vehicles.