7 Days Before Huge Reopening, NY Pitches Gift Cards, Free Rides & 20% Off in Stores in Vax Push

More people will be eligible for vaccination this week after the CDC approved Pfizer's shot regimen on an emergency-use basis for kids ages 12 to 15; NYC says it will start making appointments available soon

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo says vaccination is the key to getting on with life and further reopening; state beaches and pools will reopen for Memorial Day with 6ft distancing; the goal is 100% capacity by July 4
  • New York is rolling out a new suite of incentives to encourage vaccinations among those less motivated as the state reports a drop of 34% in vaccination rates over the last month alone
  • New York is making Pfizer vaccine appointments available for kids age 12-15 as early as Thursday after the CDC gives final approval

New York City and state officials in recent weeks have been making moves to open the city up as much as possible to residents and visitors ahead of a major tri-state reopening now just one week away. And they keep adding more freebies to the pot.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has already offered up free tickets to popular attractions like Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Botanical Garden and more (along with a free two-week Citi Bike membership), tossed in some more deals Wednesday: gift cards to NYC Public Marks, gift cards to the Chelsea Market via Google and 20% off your next purchase at a New York City store. All you need to do to cash in is get a shot.

With less than half of the state's population ages 18 and up fully vaccinated, consider the incentives a final pitch to shore up defenses across the five boroughs before nearly all remaining business restrictions lift across the tri-state in a week.

nyc freebies
Here are some of the latest offerings for vaccination.

Two days before that, 24/7 subway service resumes in the five boroughs for the first time in a year. To encourage vaccinations and a public transit revival at the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a new incentive program starting Wednesday.

Anyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine at a designated subway station between now and Sunday will receive a free seven-day MetroCard, while anyone vaccinated at a Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North hub will earn two free one-way trips anywhere in the service area. It's just a four-day window for now, a limited-time deal, but Cuomo has indicated the pilot could possibly be extended if it proves successful.

The eight-transit-hub initiative uses the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which means people can leave for work, for example, get a shot at their usual commute spot and be fully vaccinated by the time they get to the office. Tourists who are trickling back in as restrictions loosen can also get inoculated at those locations.

Vaccinations are key to accelerating the recovery path forward, even as shot rates decline across the nation, officials say. In New York, vaccination rates have plunged by 34% since April 12, according to Cuomo. Kids ages 12 to 15 could be eligible for vaccination in New York as early as Thursday if the CDC vaccine advisory committee approves Pfizer's shot regimen for emergency use for those ages, Cuomo says, but he says he's still targeting efforts to those age 16-40 right now.

On Wednesday, the governor's message on vaccination was as fervent as ever.

"It allows us to get on with life. Life is about living. This past year has been hell and life has been on hold and untold damage has been done," Cuomo said. "We're going to be assessing the damage of this past year for years to come. Everybody talks about the economic damage. How about the social damage? The damage to families? We have to get on with life. We have to reopen but we have to do it smart."

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

New York City is also readying to offer the Pfizer vaccine at city-run sites for kids age 12-15 now that the CDC has given its approval. The governor ruled that kids in that age group can get vaccinated after the state’s vaccine advisory task force and state health commissioner reviewed safety data.

“Vaccine authorization for a younger population will allow the state to continue its tremendous progress towards winning the war against COVID,” he said in a statement announcing the expansion.

Local pharmacies say they're on board, too. CVS had said children can start getting vaccinated at over 365 CVS pharmacies that offer the Pfizer vaccine around New York state. Parents or guardians have to provide consent for vaccination, and children must be accompanied by an adult.

It’s unclear when people can start signing up for appointments, but a spokesperson for the city’s health department said appointments will be listed as soon as possible.

“We have a full plan to reach young New Yorkers and get them vaccinated,” de Blasio told reporters.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said more than 250 sites in the city administer the Pfizer vaccine, including the American Museum of Natural History, neighborhood pharmacies and pop-up vaccination sites. The sites are also taking walk-up appointments, he added.

Statewide, just 26.7% of New Yorkers age 16-25 are fully vaccinated, while 37% of those 26-34 can say the same. In New York City, those numbers are 24.8% and 37.4%, respectively.

Vaccination rates for those 65-74 are the highest of all age groups at both the city and state level, which is slightly different from the national trend, where those ages 50-64 account for the highest percentage of Americans fully vaccinated (27.8%).

Nationally, people age 18-29 account for 11.3% of full vaccinations, well below their representation in the U.S. population, while those 16 and 17 years old are just 1% of the vaccinated pool.

A growing number of colleges and universities -- hundreds of them now -- now say vaccination will be mandatory for students returning to campus in the fall, so the outreach at local, state and national levels of government is well underway.

ny vax rates
Vaccination rates are much lower in New York among younger populations.

Mayor de Blasio has said he will not mandate vaccinations for students and teachers when New York City public schools return to "full strength" in September, though Cuomo says mandating vaccination for any public school or government entity can't be mandated yet. The CDC and FDA would have to approve the various vaccines for full use; right now, they've just been authorized for emergency use.

When that changes, some new mandates could come, too, though it may still be a bit early to tell. Also on the table for change: social distancing and indoor mask-wearing.

Should the CDC adjust its guidance on those COVID protocols, both Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy have said they would consider during the same.

Right now, both those protective elements will remain in place in New York and New Jersey when the two states make their biggest reopening push in more than a year on May 19. Cuomo announced another intermediate step Wednesday, saying state beaches and pools will reopen in time for Memorial Day with social distancing required. The goal, he said, is to have them open at 100% capacity by July 4.

"If the numbers keep going the way they're going we'll be able to do that, so we'll actually be able to have a normal summer finally with beaches and pools and that's what we're striving for," Cuomo said Wednesday.

Social distancing would likely be the first federal guidance adjusted. 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 across the U.S. 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.

New York, where 50% of the population age 18 and up is fully vaccinated, and New York City, where 46.8% of that population completed their shot series, have seen similar trends in recent weeks.

Statewide, average daily hospitalizations and deaths are down 31% over the previous 14-day period, according to New York Times data, while New York City has notched 51% and 39% declines, respectively, in its weekly hospitalization average and death rates compared with the prior four-week averages.

In neighboring New Jersey, where 41.7% of the population is fully vaccinated to date, hospitalization and death averages are down 36% and 28%, respectively, over the previous 14 days, New York Times data shows.

If the promising viral rate declines continue and vaccinations rise at a faster clip than they are, it could mean even more aggressive reopening measures and higher capacity limits for all much sooner.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that the shot is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 U.S. volunteers. NBC New York's Natalie Pasquarella reports.

Vaccination campaigns across the tri-state area have focused not just on incentives but also on convenience. To that end, 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 give some people pause.

De Blasio said Tuesday the mass vaccination site at the Mets' Citi Field would add a drive-thru option starting Thursday in hopes of reaching those who prefer to stay in their vehicles.

On the same day, the state is expected to begin using the Pfizer vaccine among 12- to 15-year-olds if the state health commissioner and Clinical Advisory Task Force recommend so. That means states could essentially have their middle school students vaccinated well before the fall, along with their older populations.

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


That push to vaccinate the youngest kids may come slower as parents waver about whether or not to give their consent for shots. That's OK for now, de Blasio says.

Schools have been a bright spot throughout the pandemic for the city, and the mayor says he sees no point in trying to force vaccinations upon the youngest New Yorkers.

"We are seeing extraordinary success right now in our schools and that was before we were able to vaccinate our kids," he said. "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."

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


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