State's Largest Vaccine Sites Open in Brooklyn, Queens; NYC Blasts New Variant Report

"We're focused on equity. We're focused on making sure that people who have been in the neighborhoods that suffered the most from COVID get access to the vaccination, get the support they need," NYC's mayor says

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What to Know

  • New York's two largest state vaccination sites to date opened Wednesday in Brooklyn and Queens and target historically underserved communities; they're part of a new federal program
  • That program provides special dose allocation to ensure continued supply and aims to encourage vaccination in communities of color and lower-income communities that have lower vaccination rates
  • Meanwhile, two unpublished studies by separate researchers claim that a new variant has been showing up in NYC since November, and has spread enough to appear in about a quarter of viral sequences seen in scientists' databases by mid-February

New York's two largest vaccination sites to date, both run jointly by FEMA and the state, opened Wednesday in Brooklyn and Queens, the first in a series of launches under a new federal program targeting historically underserved communities.

The two boroughs are the third and fifth deadliest COVID counties in America, respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University data. They long topped the charts earlier in the pandemic when New York City was the epicenter of the national crisis, before being surpassed by counties in California and Arizona.

Both sites -- at Brooklyn's Medgar Evers College and Queens' York College -- will operate seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and be staffed jointly by state and federal officials. The National Guard will assist with operations as well. Initial appointments for the first few days are reserved for residents of hard-hit ZIP codes with low vaccination rates in Brooklyn and Queens. They'll open up to all eligible residents in the respective boroughs starting on Saturday.

nys vaccine sites

Eligible New Yorkers can schedule appointments for the Brooklyn and Queens sites via the state's 'Am I Eligible' website or by calling its COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829). Appointments can now be made on site at the Brooklyn and Queens locations that opened Wednesday.

Both sites have the capacity to each inoculate up to 3,000 people a day for at least an initial eight-week period. They receive a special allocation of federal vaccine doses to ensure continued supply as states continue to face lower-than-desired supply in what New York officials describe as a race against time and more contagious variants — including a new one that some studies suggest may already be spreading in New York City.

City officials blasted the original New York Times report on the two unpublished, not-yet peer-reviewed studies by separate researchers at Caltech and Columbia University early Thursday. They described the studies as "pathogen porn."

The two mega-sites are part of the latest push to expand vaccinations, and do it equitably. Gaby Acevedo reports.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo toured the Medgar Evers site earlier this week and visited the York College on Wednesday as it opened. He said the site will "is gonna save lives," and Mayor Bill de Blasio didn't seemed concerned that hundreds of appointments were still available.

"Every time vaccinations have been available they get snapped up. I don't believe there will be lack of demand," the mayor said.

In an effort to make access to the new sites easier for these so-called "socially vulnerable" communities, Cuomo said the MTA will enhance bus service from NYCHA and community centers to the new state-FEMA sites as part of a pilot program. That service starts Monday; it will ferry people from Queens' Edgemere Houses and Brooklyn's Pink Houses to the vaccination sites from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. New bus stops will be added near the vaccination site at York College (see full details on those new routes and times here).

Four more sites under the federal program will open upstate March 3 in Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester and Albany. Those will each vaccinate 1,000 people a day. Appointment scheduling for those sites opened Wednesday. Like the ones in the city, appointments the first week are reserved for New Yorkers in areas with low vaccination rates. Then they open up to eligible people in the respective counties.

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

To further supplement the equity effort, the state is partnering with faith leaders in Brooklyn and Queens for a vaccination drive encouraging people to sign up. New York has also established more than 90 community-based pop-up vaccination sites at churches, community centers and public housing complexes statewide. It intends to establish pop-up sites at all 33 NYCHA developments.

Almost all first doses that had been scheduled to arrive in New York last week were delayed by weather, but the restock started to slowly trickle in on Monday, City Hall said. New Jersey has faced similar shortages: Officials in Essex County canceled first dose appointments for Sunday and Monday while those in Monmouth County canceled Monday appointments for the fifth straight day. NBC 4 has team coverage.

"The state is committed to vaccinating all New Yorkers, and that means making a concerted effort to reach those communities which have been underserved by the traditional health care system," Cuomo said in a statement ahead of the openings. "If we are to truly be successful in winning this war once and for all, we need to make sure shots are going into arms everywhere, regardless of race, background or income, and these sites are critical components of that effort."

Racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities have pervaded the vaccination rollout at the local, state and federal levels. In New York, where 2.4 million people have received at least one dose (12.3 percent of the population), vaccination rates have been higher for whites in every single one of the 10 regions compared with their percentage of the eligible population in each region, the latest data shows.

New York state has not published demographic data online for those who have completed the full vaccination series. More than 1.3 million New Yorkers have done that to date, reflecting less than 7 percent of the state's population.

state demo

New York City doesn't provide that data separately either. The city has administered nearly 1.6 million total doses to date, including more than 910,000 first doses and more than a half-million second doses. Those numbers include people who don't live in New York City but are eligible for vaccination in the five boroughs because of work. Among all New York City residents who have received at least one dose, just 12 percent are Black and 16 percent are Latino.

According to the most recent federal population data, those racial groups comprise 24 percent and 29 percent of the city's population, respectively.

The city has launched a number of vaccine hubs targeting communities of color and lower-income communities in recent weeks, including the site at Yankee Stadium, which is run jointly with the state and serves Bronx residents only.

Mayor de Blasio has launched a number of community-based vaccination drives to expand outreach as well.

"We're focused on equity. We're focused on making sure that people who have been in the neighborhoods that suffered the most from COVID get access to the vaccination, get the support they need, the information they need, the answers they need, the outreach they need," de Blasio said Wednesday.

Seventy-five percent of city-run sites that have opened to date are in those priority neighborhoods, he said. The city has opened 19 sites at NYCHA locations and will add another seven this week, with 2,000 appointments available, the mayor said.

"This is how we build up momentum," he added.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

Now that over 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, questions rise for those who are wondering what activities are safe to do and what the timeline to normalcy is.

More than 10 million people are currently eligible for vaccination in New York alone, a number that far exceeds the supply coming from the federal government.

Supply has been a core limiting factor across the board, including in neighboring New Jersey, which continues to ramp up its distribution efforts despite receiving less than half the weekly federal allocation New York does. It plans a soft launch this week for three new FEMA-run sites in Franklin, Trenton and Paterson.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

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


To date, New Jersey has administered more than 1.7 million total doses, nearly 1.2 million of those first shots. Severe racial/ethnic disparities are evident in the Garden State as well. Of those vaccinated, just 4 percent are Black, despite representing about 13 percent of the state's population. Vaccination numbers for Latinos are even lower compared with their share of the population. That group accounts for just 5 percent of the state's vaccinations to date despite representing about 18 percent of the population, New Jersey data shows.

Gov. Phil Murphy said the head of the White House's COVID-19 health equity task force, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, would join his Friday coronavirus briefing virtually to discuss the state and country's ongoing efforts to address the disparities.

In Connecticut, Department of Public Health data suggests that "disparities exist in vaccine administration across racial lines" as well, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday as he pledged to allocate sufficient vaccines to the underserved.

Pfizer and Moderna have pledged to up production of COVID-19 vaccine as states struggle to meet demand.

The disparities exist in stark contrast to significantly higher COVID infection and death rates in Black and Latino communities compared with white communities across the tri-state area. As Lamont said, "People of color are twice as likely to get infected and suffer complications and half as likely to get vaccinated."

The tri-states have more than 7,000 providers ready to accelerate the rollout once supply is more stable. The White House has announced a number of incremental boosts in recent weeks and plans to buttress supply more extensively over the next month. Federal emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine would significantly help supply, city officials have said.

The likelihood of that happening soon increased Wednesday, when the FDA said its analysis found J&J's vaccine to be safe and effective. The agency's independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the long-anticipated shot for emergency use on Friday. The White House said it anticipates allocating three to four million doses of the J&J vaccine next week — less than the 10 million expected right away, but the Coronavirus Task Force said it was confident the company can ramp up production to meet their commitment of 100 million doses by the end of June.

Dr. Richard Nettles of Johnson & Johnson told a House subcommittee on Tuesday that the company will have 20 million doses of their vaccine available by the end of March.

The single-dose vaccine could provide a much-needed infusion into a national vaccine rollout that has slowly begun to ramp up weekly allocation to states. Even before the latest J&J news, Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City's health chief who himself battled COVID-19 earlier this month, said the feds indicated they plan to boost allocation substantially by April on top of the incremental boosts thus far.

Most localities have used some of the increased supply to start vaccinating essential personnel such as fire, police — and teachers, a group that Cuomo said the state will start tracking vaccination numbers for weekly. He said it's a part of President Joe Biden's push to open schools, and will also involve figuring out how many teachers are doing in-class learning, as many educators are concerned about going back to the classroom without a vaccine.

Vaccines for teachers are recommended, but not required.

In New Jersey, Murphy has yet to grant teachers eligibility for vaccination, given limitations in supply. He has said he hopes they'll be next up, though hasn't given any potential timeline for extending eligibility in his state.

"We haven't heard one bad case for why certain populations that are not currently up to bat should be up to bat -- so everyone is making a very credible case on behalf of their colleagues regardless of who you might be or which community you might be in," Murphy said last week. "If you are under 65 and you have a chronic health condition you are right now up to bat. You are eligible right now."

The race to vaccinate has taken on heightened urgency as more contagious variants first identified abroad become more prevalent in the United States, threatening to lead to faster viral spread as the country descends its latest peak.

Overall, vaccines are expected to work on the variants that have emerged and those that will emerge over time. To date, the United States has administered more than 65 million total vaccine doses, nearly 20 million of those second shots (about 6 percent of the country's population, according to the CDC). Experts have said not to worry about which company's vaccine to get, saying that despite some differences in effectives, that are "practically equivalent," according to Dr. Robert Amler, a public health expert from New York Medical College.

While it is still not clear how long protection lasts after receiving the vaccine, but a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows how it has been saving lives. Since nursing home residents became eligible for vaccinations in December, there's been a 66 percent decline in nursing home deaths nationwide — a decline that is getting even faster in recent weeks.

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