COVID-19

New York Expands Vaccine Eligibility to Age 30+ as Appointment Headaches Soar

In other news, NYers aged 75 and up plus one eligible escort of any age can now get vaccinated together without appointments at three 24/7 city-run mass sites: Brooklyn Army Terminal, Bathgate and Citi Field

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What to Know

  • New York opened vaccine eligibility to those age 30+ Tuesday and will extend it universally to those age 16+ on April 6; about 17% of the state's population has been fully vaccinated to date
  • The process is getting simpler, too; New Yorkers 75 and older can now get vaccinated with an eligible escort of any age without having to make appointments at three city-run mass vaccination sites
  • Even as the rollout accelerates, NJ and NY top U.S. charts (No. 1 and 2, respectively) in new cases per capita; officials believe variants are a factor and say two may pose a greater likelihood for reinfection

The days of navigating slow, complicated online sites to simply book an appointment for coronavirus vaccines have ended for New Yorkers age 75 and older, but another massive influx of residents becoming eligible for the life-saving doses is already complicating the process for some.

As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, New Yorkers age 30 and up can begin scheduling their shots, while universal eligibility will extend to all 16 and older early next week. Vaccine eligibility had previously been restricted to people older than 50, those in certain job categories and people with underlying health conditions that put them at risk for serious illness or death if they were to become infected with the virus.

New York's incarcerated population is also now eligible, following a judge's ruling Monday. The latest expansion and the looming one, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo called a "monumental step," adds millions more eligible people to the pool. It also raises new questions.


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

Pfizer is the only manufacturer to have included people age 16 and 17 in its early clinical trials. Its vaccine is the only one of the federally approved three that has been authorized for those younger ages. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots have been approved for people age 18 and older only. It's not clear if Pfizer doses will be reserved for the youngest group when they earn eligibility next week.

Both the state and city do list vaccine manufacturer by site location on their respective health websites (see the state one here and the city one here). All but three of the state-run mass vaccine sites offer Pfizer's regimen, though fewer than half have any appointments available. It's not clear if Cuomo's team has any plans to secure easy access for the 16- and 17-year-olds by some other means.

Access did become much easier this week for New Yorkers age 75 and older, though. NYC Test & Trace Corps announced that age group no longer needs an appointment to get vaccinated at one of three 24/7 city-run mass vaccination sites: Brooklyn Army Terminal, Bathgate and Citi Field. To encourage people to take advantage, the city says an eligible escort of any age can accompany older New Yorkers and get vaccinated with them, no scheduling needed.

As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, New Yorkers age 30 and up can begin scheduling their shots, while universal eligibility will extend to all 16 and older early next week. Vaccine eligibility had previously been restricted to people older than 50, those in certain job categories and people with underlying health conditions that put them at risk for serious illness or death if they were to become infected with the virus. Gaby Acevedo reports.

While many, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, have called for more "freedom to vaccinate" and laud the developments, at least one New York City councilmember says the expansion will create an "intense" crush for the rest of the population, some of which has been eligible for some time and yet to get shot.

Democrat Mark Levine tweeted that the eligibility expansion adds about 2 million people to the list just in New York City alone, "but we are still receiving only about 200k 1st shot doses per week."

Those who tried to schedule appointments when they first earned eligibility Tuesday morning likely encountered a series of red "NO FIRST DOSE APPOINTMENTS AVAILABLE" messages regarding city sites or "No Appointments Available Currently" at state ones within a reasonable distance from their homes.

ny vaccine eligibility
Handout
These are the groups currently eligible for vaccination in New York.

Some would click on a hopeful "check for appointments" option at a given site and fill out all their personal information only to get a glaring "no appointments currently available" message at the end. A half-hour into the new eligibility expansion, the city's vaccine finder page appeared not to even load correctly, a probable casualty of the increased volume of New Yorkers seeking shots.

Equally frustrating, the state site would show a number of appointments available but those vanished for some people the moment they tried to take them. People can't schedule an appointment in advance at a site that doesn't have supply.


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


Further complicating matters, the city said Monday it will relocate or consolidate vaccine hubs in Department of Education facilities as more students return to school. Others will operate on a modified schedule in the coming weeks. The city pledged to automatically reschedule New Yorkers who had appointments at affected sites and notify them via text, call and email, though that notification process has been criticized in the past. Many people show up for shots anyway.

"Every effort will be made to reschedule people for the same day/time at the new location. If the rescheduled time does not work for the eligible individual, they can reschedule for an alternative time," city officials said.

So far, just two sites are being relocated later this week. The Bronx site at Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies on Boston Road will move to West Bronx Gymnasium on Jessup Avenue Thursday, while the Brooklyn site at Science Skills Center on Flatbush Avenue will relocate to City Point on the same day.

As parts of the country see a rise in COVID-19 cases, President Joe Biden says the country needs to ramp up vaccine distribution. “As fast as we are going, we need to go faster,” Biden said.

De Blasio and Cuomo have both described supply as the single biggest limiting factor in the rollout for months. The mayor has repeatedly said that the city could administer 500,000 shots per week or more if its supply matched demand. The five boroughs' first and single-shot doses of vaccines left on hand had dwindled below 21,000 early Tuesday but later jumped above 161,000 thanks to the latest shipment arrivals.

While certain complaints persist about scheduling appointments and other issues, the process overall has smoothed and accelerated dramatically as of late.

At the start of March, the city did less than 340,000 doses per week. On Monday, de Blasio said the city administered 478,000 last week, a 40 percent increase. It did another near-45,000 more in the next 24 hours alone, state data shows.

To date, 15.4 percent of New York City's population has been fully vaccinated, while 27 percent had at least one dose. Statewide, nearly 30 percent of the population has had at least one dose while 17.3 percent can report a completed series.

Stark racial/ethnic discrepancies persist statewide, though the gaps appear to have lessened in the city. Eligible white New Yorkers continue to be vaccinated at much higher rates than New Yorkers of color and those who live in lower-income communities. More community pop-up vaccination sites are expected to come online throughout the week as part of an ongoing effort to address the disparities.

It's a problem reflected nationally and in neighboring New Jersey, where Black and Latino residents account for just 5 and 7 percent, respectively, of total doses administered. That's well below their representation in the eligible population. In total, the Garden State has fully inoculated about 17 percent of its population, while roughly 30 percent of its populace has had at least one vaccine dose.

It's not clear when New Jersey might be ready to take that universal eligibility step, but if the moves by neighboring governors are an indication, it won't be long.

President Joe Biden announced Monday that 90 percent of U.S. adults will be eligible for vaccination by April 19 -- and have a site within five miles of home by that date. The plan is contingent upon expanding vaccine access at retail pharmacies, which thus far have only been permitted to inoculate people 60 years and older, teachers and more recently, individuals with underlying conditions.

The race, more of a marathon, to vaccinate has taken on heightened urgency in the last month or so as officials fight to maintain lower hospitalization and death rates while curbing the spread of new cases. Experts say those say plateaued at a "very high" level across the country once post-holiday viral declines slowed.

Overall, a new CDC study finds just a single dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to be 80 percent effective in preventing infection.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that new data shows that the Moderna and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines both show high levels of effectiveness after one dose and were successful in preventing both symptomatic and asymptotic infections.

Variants, Loosening of Restrictions Fuel U.S. Worry

On Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky described a "recurring feeling I have of impending doom" as she begged people to hang on a bit longer. She warned that states lifting mask mandates, heightened travel and the spread of highly contagious variants could lead to a potential "fourth wave" if Americans don't cling to the same COVID precautions that helped the nation first bend the curve.

Even as the U.S. vaccination rollout hits new milestones -- more than 1 in 3 Americans have had at least one dose, the White House said Monday -- the number of daily cases is growing by at least 5 percent in 30 states and D.C. 

New Jersey and New York now rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the U.S. in new infections per capita, a fact that generates extreme unease in two states that suffered the most early in the pandemic and whose losses continue to mount. Hospitalization and death rates have ebbed, though both remain at quadruple the levels they were at as recently as early November, the states' data shows. Connecticut isn't too far behind the two, currently with the fourth-highest infections per capita and with climbing hospitalization rates.

Elected and health officials in both NY and NJ believe highly transmissible variants are fueling some of the ongoing spread. In New York City, health officials said earlier this month that two variants -- the one first identified in the U.K. last year and one that appears to have originated in Washington Heights -- accounted for 51 percent of all samples studied in the most recent week of full data.

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

The vast majority of variant samples identified were the Washington Heights variant, known as B.1.526. That strain was present in nearly two of five cases studied overall. The U.K. strain, B.1.1.7, has thus far been reported in about 590 New York City residents, a 35 percent increase from the previous data release. Two cases of the South African variant and one Brazilian strain case have also been detected. City officials are expected to provide another update this week.

Asked about the risk of variants, specifically as it relates to any potential for reinfection, Tuesday, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said some of the strains, particularly the Brazilian and South African ones, "do appear to be able to evade our immune response more-so than the other variants."

The state's first confirmed case of the Brazilian variant comes after more than 5 million New Yorkers have so far received their first dose of a vaccine.

"That's something that we are following closely. There appears to be evidence that people who get those variants are more at risk of reinfection even if they've had COVID-19 in the past. All of that said, based on our own observation here in New York City, we're not seeing the likelihood of reinfection growing over time."

Statewide, the governor's office has not been publicly updating its accounting of variants regularly. The two variants most commonly detected in New York are the same two most prevalent in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci explains the threat of the B117 COVID-19 variant and how the U.S. can combat it: by increasing vaccinations and maintaining public health precautions such as mask mandates and social distancing.

Given available data, Murphy said the state is likely seeing somewhere between 10 and 40 percent of cases related to the variants but the exact ratio isn't clear. Concerns over the variants are also growing in Connecticut, where officials are monitoring a recent uptick in cases.

Despite the worries regarding variants, New York announced another step in its reopening efforts on Tuesday. Starting Friday, fans of college sports can return to the stands in new York, with capacity at large-scale venues capped at 10 percent indoors and 20 percent outdoors. All those who are looking to attend a game will have to show proof of a vaccination or a recent COVID negative test.

Small venues will be allowed to host just two fans per player, but if all in attendance show proof of a vaccination or a recent COVID negative test, then capacity can increase to up to 150 attendees indoors, or 500 outdoors. Maximum occupancy of 50 percent remains.

Nationally, the CDC has confirmed more than 11,500 U.K. variant cases in 51 states and territories. That's the strain the federal agency said could predominate in the U.S. as early as this month. The South African and Brazilian variants remain less common, with 312 and 172 cases identified in 31 and 22 states, respectively, according to the CDC's latest reporting on Tuesday.

Existing vaccines are expected to work on the variants that have emerged and those that will emerge over time, health experts say. Others warn viral mutations could render current vaccines ineffective in a year or less, according to CNBC.

Copyright NBC New York
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