COVID-19

Largest NYS Mass Vax Sites to Date Coming to Brooklyn, Queens to Reach Most Vulnerable

Both the Queens and Brooklyn sites will each have the capacity to inoculate up to 3,000 people a day and they will receive special federal dosage allocation to ensure sufficient play; they will open on Feb. 24

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo says NYers age 16+ with underlying conditions are vaccine-eligible starting Feb. 15; they'll have to bring some sort of proof of their comorbidity and the state will audit local systems
  • NYC officials say any of the three forms of validation are acceptable; city residents with qualifying comorbidities can begin scheduling appointments the day they become eligible, on Monday, Feb. 15
  • State-run sites are accepting appointments for people with pre-existing conditions starting Sunday, though the first shots won't be until Monday at the earliest; first dose supply remains an issue

Facing stark racial and ethnic vaccine disparities within his own state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling once again on governments at all levels to expand access and outreach to communities of color and lower-income communities.

He announced a new state and federal partnership Wednesday to open mass vaccine sites in "socially vulnerable communities" where they are most needed. The first two will open in Queens -- at York College in Jamaica -- and Brooklyn -- at Medgar Evers College -- the week of Feb. 24, Cuomo said.

Both sites will be able to do about 3,000 vaccinations a day over an eight-week period, which will make them the largest mass vaccination sites opened to date in New York state. And both sites will reserve vaccinations for residents of their respective boroughs, like the Yankee Stadium site already open in the Bronx.

The feds will provide special dosage allocation to those sites to ensure sufficient supply. The state is working with FEMA and the CDC to identify additional sites outside of the city to launch targeted efforts, including some in the upstate area. Any new sites under the partnership will be able to vaccinate 1,000 people a day.

"They are going to address a dramatic need in bringing the vaccine to the people who need it most," Cuomo said. "It's a bold step -- only a first step. We need to do more."

The sites will target communities of color and lower-income communities, Cuomo said. Those groups were the hardest-hit at the onset of the pandemic and bore the brunt of deaths and infections while receiving a comparatively lower share of coveted first vaccine doses and the poorest access to testing in the first place.

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out, a study has found that they are disproportionately reaching white populations before Black and other minority communities. One of the authors of the Business Insider report, senior healthcare reporter Shelby Livingston, joined LX News to discuss the difference in vaccination rates, and the questions it raises about racial equity.

"COVID killed Black people at twice the rate of white people. It is a fact. It should make us uncomfortable. COVID infection was three times higher in the Black and Latino communities," Cuomo said Wednesday. "Despite that, Black, Hispanic and poor communities had less access to testing even though they had a higher infection rate. Any American rescue plan must rescue all Americans and correct the structural racism and discrimination that we have all now seen."

The problem on the vaccine front is two-fold, Cuomo says -- it is both a product of institutionalized U.S. racism and resulting mistrust of the society in which bias has remained foundational for so long.

"Some people call it vaccine hesitancy, but actually it's worse than that," Cuomo said. "The language we use is important. It is a lack of trust of the system."

Both Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have launched aggressive outreach efforts to communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods, where surveys show heightened vaccine skepticism.

With supply so preciously limited, ensuring equity in the hardest-hit boroughs and areas of the state has been of paramount importance. At the same time, because of the scarcity, first dose shots will first go to the eligible people who show up. And both state and city data continue to show grave demographic disparities.


Not sure how the process works? Or when you might be able to get an appointment? 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

Statewide, more than 2.6 million total vaccine doses have been administered to date, including 1.9 million-plus first doses. Roughly 10 percent of New Yorkers have received at least a first dose, Cuomo said. As of Wednesday, the state has used about 93 percent of all the first dose allocation it has received to date.

Yet the state's own data shows the racial/ethnic breakdown of who has gotten vaccinated by share of eligible population within the three eligible categories to overwhelmingly favor white people.

nys racial ethnic breakdown
Handout

Disparities are similarly evident in New York City data. Of all city residents who have received at least one dose, 46 percent are white, while 12 percent are Black, 16 percent Latino and 16 percent Asian. Those vaccination rates do not reflect the groups' shares of city population, according to the most recent American Community Survey. The disparity is most glaring within the Black community.

As state and city officials, along with the federal government, redouble their efforts to reach those most vulnerable, their sprawling vaccine distribution networks continue to expand.

New York City's newest 24/7 vaccine mega-site opened Wednesday at the Mets' Citi Field, one that will reserve half its appointments for eligible Queens residents and the other for TLC licensees and food delivery workers, but the number of those available will be wildly lower than the mayor's initial goal of 7,000 a day.

The number of initial shots administered daily at the hub through its opening weekend will be limited to just 200 because of supply issues, city officials said. More supply is incoming, though. Mayor de Blasio is expected to announce the Citi Field site will move to a 24/7, seven-day-a-week operation starting next Wednesday. Supply is expected to increase from the 800 total doses over the next four days to somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 next week.

Despite the relatively modest start to the effort, de Blasio called opening day for vaccinations at Citi Field “the beginning of something big.” Quoting the well-known baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” he added, “When vaccinations are here, people will come here. If you build it, they will come.”

Declaring New York state's demonstration with the Buffalo Bills an "unparalleled success," Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday he will extend the testing- based program to any large stadium or arena later this month. That means fans who provide a negative PCR test within 72 hours of an event will be able to attend music shows and performances as well as baseball, soccer, football and basketball games. Arenas can open to the public on Feb. 23.

The mayor said he was in talks with the state and the Nets to open a mass vaccination site at Barclays Center, a plan that could run into issues given Cuomo's announcement Wednesday large arenas could reopen Feb. 23 with testing requirements in place. Barclays has already been cleared to go that day.

The demand is clearly there. People starting showing up at Citi Field well ahead of scheduled opening time Wednesday morning. Some had no appointments, while a home health aide who was sick with COVID in the early days of the pandemic was the first registered person in line.

The Yankee Stadium mega-site that opened last week for Bronx residents only offered 15,000 appointments in its first week. All were filled. That, though, is a jointly state- and city-run site, while the Citi Field one is city-run only.

De Blasio had said Tuesday he wanted to see more vaccine shifted to the Queens stadium and vowed that would happen in the days ahead, adding, "The goal is to target the efforts where there's a particular need, and there's a particular need in Queens, and we'll keep moving vaccine in that direction as we get it."

Yet another New York City mega-site opens Wednesday at the Mets' Citi Field but it will come nowhere close to reaching Mayor Bill de Blasio's vaccination goals due to persistent supply shortage. NBC New York's Katherine Creag reports.

Not sure how the process works? Or when you might be able to get an appointment? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here


The mayor says New York City could vaccinate up to a half-million people a week if it had the supply. To date, the five boroughs have administered well more than 1 million total shots, the vast majority (68 percent) of those first doses. First dose supply had dwindled down to less than 43,000 Monday, but finally got its awaited boost from the latest shipment and now has nearly 140,000 on hand.

Prior to the latest restock, city-run programs had administered 94 percent of the first doses delivered to those sites to date. They've been operating under a week-to-week scenario regarding vaccination and urged by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to avoid scheduling appointments beyond their known allocations. By week's end, expect the city's first dose supply to be quite limited again due to high demand.

Demand is only going to expand in the coming days, with New Yorkers age 16 and older with qualifying underlying conditions adding millions more to the statewide eligibility pool (which stands around 7 million now) starting Monday. In New York City, those soon-to-be eligible people won't be able to even try to schedule an appointment until the date they become eligible -- and with wait times stretching past mid-April as is across the state, many could be waiting months for shots.

As the site that the mayor called a "game-changer" opens, the state is expanding vaccine eligibility to residents with certain underlying conditions. NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

Cuomo says people with pre-existing conditions can start trying to sign up for appointments at state-run sites a day earlier, on Valentine's Day. His team has warned to expect a bumpy launch, at best, with the mad "crush" of newly eligible New Yorkers likely to pose perhaps the biggest stress test to date on the already taxed and still young vaccination appointment system.

People will also have to bring proof of their comorbidities to their appointments -- either a doctor's note, medical documentation or some other attestation of one's diagnosis, Cuomo has said. New York City will accept any of those.

Cuomo is looking to other allowable means to help boost supply, including reallocating unused first doses for the federal nursing program. There are about tens of thousands of those, he said. The CDC remains adamantly opposed to using reserved second doses as first doses at this point, the governor said Tuesday, and unless that changes, the mayor's request to do so will stay denied.


See the full list of underlying conditions that qualify NYers for vaccine eligibility


A bit more of a boost is on the way, though -- Cuomo said Tuesday the White House pledged another 5 percent boost in weekly allocation to states over the next three weeks on top of the roughly 20 percent increase promised over the same time period. Cuomo said the feds would also directly allocate to qualified community centers in states above and beyond the states' allocations, which will provide further assistance. There will be 1 million of those doses sent nationwide.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says Queens' Citi Field mega-site, which was shelved in January amid first dose supply issues, will open on Feb. 10. That site will be open 24 hours a day, Wednesday through Saturday. Half of the appointments will be reserved for eligible Queens residents, while the other half will be reserved for TLC licensees and food delivery workers. Meanwhile, experts say that the U.K. strain is spreading quickly in the U.S. Tracie Strahan and Tom Costello report.

It's not clear how many will be allocated to New York City or state -- or neighboring New Jersey, where the governor has also repeatedly said limited first dose supply has hampered his state's rollout. On the plus side, the vaccinating effort has accelerated considerably in just the last few weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy says.

As of Wednesday, more than 1.14 million total vaccine doses have been administered in New Jersey, including 875,000-plus first shots. The state took nearly 40 days to hit the first half-million vaccinations but just 16 days to reach another half-million.

Murphy said Wednesday that CVS will receive 19,900 doses and Rite Aid 7,500 doses in the next few days from a federal pharmacy program, expanding the vaccine's availability in the state. (Not every location will get doses, however; those seeking a vaccine will need to check the pharmacies' websites to find stores with supply.)

Like New York, New Jersey's vaccination rollout has seen stark racial gaps. As of Wednesday, 50 percent of recipients were white, while 3 percent were Black, 5 percent Latino and 6 percent Asian. Another 35 percent were listed as "other" or unknown." New Jersey's vaccine tracker does not compare vaccination rates to racial/ethnic groups' respective share of the eligible population, however.

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

Source: ny.gov

Murphy moved earlier than Cuomo to expand eligibility to people age 16 to 64 with preexisting conditions, doing so in the middle of January and including smoking as a pre-existing condition, which sparked controversy. He defended that decision as recently as Wednesday, telling CNBC there is a need to prioritize people with pre-existing conditions and the CDC includes smoking among them.

Teachers, meanwhile, are still waiting to find out when they can get their first shots in the Garden State. Murphy says he hopes to get to educators next.

Meanwhile, the state passed another grim milestone Wednesday -- more than 20,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

Reporter Brian Thompson looks into the controversy around smokers being eligible to take the vaccine.

Number of UK Variant Cases Detected in US Soars

At the same time New York City, along with the rest of the tri-state area, fights for more first vaccine doses, the number of U.K. strain cases in the U.S. is exploding. According to the CDC, there are now 932 reported cases of that variant, known as B.1.1.7, in 34 states -- a 35 percent increase in known cases since Sunday.

Locally, New York accounts for 59 of those, New Jersey for 31 and Connecticut for 17, though tri-state officials the actual number of variant cases are likely much higher than reported. The CDC says the U.K. strain could predominate in the U.S. by March, potentially leading to another spring spike in cases and hospitalizations just as the nation begins to climb down from its unprecedented holiday surge.

The number of South African variant cases, meanwhile, is up to nine in three states -- South Carolina (2), Virginia (1) and Maryland (6), CDC data shows. That strain has mutations on top of the ones found in the U.K. strain, which have raised concerns about the efficacy of existing vaccines against the new variants.

Overall, vaccines are expected to protect against the variants that have emerged and the new ones that will over time. Of greater concern, top federal officials say, is that they could lead to new case explosions at a critically vulnerable time for the country, with the goal of herd immunity via vaccination many months away.

As more COVID variants are identified across the globe, health experts are suggesting upgrading masks with better filtration, or, if surgical masks are the only options, to "double mask" when out and about.

The head of the CDC warned the highly transmissible variants could reverse recent drops in U.S. coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, which broke pandemic single-day records upon records last month at the height of the surge. Any influx in cases could ultimately also add to its world-high death toll, which stands at more than 466,000 as of Tuesday, according to an NBC News tally.

New York City, the first epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., may account for about 5 percent of that toll if not more. State data puts the confirmed death toll for the five boroughs at just below 20,000, though both the CDC and other experts have said thousands upon thousands of more deaths may be virus-connected.

That reality, combined with the still searing pain from the grimmest local days of the pandemic and the emerging variant threat, fuel heightened urgency around a vaccination rollout that has officials -- and the public -- frustrated at every turn.

Nationally, the rollout is picking up, though -- and is expected to do so more as new vaccines come to market, including Johnson & Johnson's promising single-dose vaccine. Tri-state officials have described that one as a game-changer.

Nearly 45 million vaccine doses have been administered to date across America, roughly 68 percent of the total doses delivered, according to the CDC. More than 10 million people have received both shots, giving them what experts and health officials hope will be full inoculation against this ever-mutating virus.

Mounting evidence shows that having had COVID-19 and recovered doesn't necessarily protect a person from getting reinfected with one of the variants. People also can get second infections with earlier versions of the coronavirus if they mounted a weak defense the first time, research suggests.

Scientists still think reinfections are fairly rare and usually less serious than initial ones. Ultimately, the core mitigation efforts -- masking up, social distancing and taking other personal precautions -- are the key tools to beating back COVID, officials say. A new CDC study finds two masks protect better than one, while new guidance from the organization suggests fitting a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask, and knotting the ear loops of the medical mask before tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face (in other words, keeping the face mask snug around the face in order to prevent droplets from getting in). The CDC says each measure substantially reduces exposure.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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