What to Know
- It appears to be getting easier to book a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine appointment in New York City; at the same time, the mayor says he believes vaccine hesitancy is on the decline
- The man behind TurboVax, one of the volunteer-run websites that help people search for available vaccine time slots, on Thursday said that traffic to his website dropped 70 percent compared to last week
- New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have each fully vaccinated more than a quarter of their respective populations; nationally, more than 30% of U.S. adults age 18 and older have completed their series
Despite the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, booking an appointment for your first dose of the other two federally approved vaccines could be getting easier for New Yorkers. Still, the question remains whether recent news of rare side effects has increased hesitancy among some people to get vaccinated.
The man behind TurboVax, one of the volunteer-run websites that help people search for available vaccine time slots, on Thursday said that traffic to his website dropped 70 percent compared to last week and that there have been more appointments for grabs.
Creator Huge Ma said it could mean New Yorkers aren't needing his help anymore, or it could mean that vaccine skeptics aren't racing to get the potentially life-saving doses.
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Ma added that the website received 76,000 page views on Thursday, but it's only one-tenth of the traffic from last Wednesday, and nowhere near the record-high of 4.1 million views in one day.
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
When asked about whether New York City is alarmed by the latter scenario, Mayor Bill de Blasio said "he's much happier with a situation where people can get an appointment quickly."
"And it's unquestionably going to help us address some of the hesitancy issues or something that maybe isn't quite hesitancy, but it's just folks who are pretty much convinced, but, you know, is it going to be easy? Is it going to be hard to do? Is it nearby? Is it not nearby? You know, the more you make it easy, and simple, and close the more people who will get engaged," the mayor said Thursday.
He added that there's "definitely" a decline in vaccine hesitancy, although it's unclear how that's being measured, but admitted there's a lot of outreach work that still needs to be done.
"That's what we're deepening right now, because we think there's a whole other wave of people we can now get to, especially as it becomes easier to get an appointment," he said.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
City officials said that 99 percent of city residents now live within just a mile from a vaccine site. There are already over 600 sites that are open to the public and another one opens Friday at the Queens Center mall. Seven other sites were also added this week in the four other boroughs.
The Elmhurst site was supposed to be one that only offered the one-dose J&J vaccine but officials say the Moderna vaccine will be administered instead. De Blasio said the federal guidance to halt the J&J vaccine this week did slow down the rollout, but he's still optimistic that the city can get 5 million people vaccinated by June.
"I think in truth, we have never gotten used to having a big J&J supply. So, the absence of it does not feel that different yet," he said Thursday. "Hopefully we can overcome that when we get the new guidance from the CDC. So, I don't think it's had a huge numerical impact, nor do I expect it will in the long run."
The CDC's suggestion to hold off on the J&J shot came Tuesday after a half-dozen reports of women between the ages of 18 and 48 suffering rare blood clots after taking the J&J vaccine. One of the women, a 45-year-old from Virginia, died. The CDC and the FDA are continuing to debate the next steps as J&J precautionarily pauses its single-shot rollout in Europe.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says is proceeding on a safe and science-driven reopening course, one that has been fortified by the state's vaccination rollout. On Thursday, he reported the lowest statewide positivity rate (2.76 percent) since Nov. 21, while the seven-day rolling average fell to 3.05 percent, the lowest it has been since the day before Thanksgiving.
But work remains to be done.
"Even as we make progress vaccinating more New Yorkers every single day and hospitalizations drop to new lows, it's critical for us all to stay vigilant until the infection rate drops and we reach a higher level of immunity," Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. "Washing hands, staying appropriately socially distanced and wearing masks are important things each of us can do to slow the spread."
"This has been an incredibly trying time for all New Yorkers, and I know COVID fatigue is setting in, but we can't give up fighting this virus until we reach the light at the end of the tunnel," the governor added.
The latest planned reopenings come as tri-state officials -- and those across the nation -- seek to reassure their people of vaccine safety and effectiveness.
Tri-state officials, including de Blasio, describe the pause as a "tremendous curveball" but say they hope -- and believe -- it won't hamper their vaccination efforts for long. De Blasio says the city remains on track to fully vaccinate 5 million residents by the end of June. He's about 40 percent of the way there.
Amid local, state and national pushes to vaccinate, federal experts, including CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, have warned Americans to maintain COVID precautions, saying vaccinations take up to six weeks to take full effect.
That time gap potentially gives more contagious variants that have intensified their collective grip on the country more time to spread and threaten U.S. progress.
Some authorities have pointed to variants, like those first identified in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, as a factor in heightened hospitalization rates among people younger than 65, fewer of whom are fully vaccinated compared with their 65 and older counterparts. For the latter, the average rate of admissions into New York City hospitals for COVID-like illness has fallen by 51 percent since mid-January, health officials say.
That compares with a 29 percent-decline for those under 65, city officials say.
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's an indication that vaccinations are working against variants overall, as health experts have said they would, and de Blasio said Wednesday he thought the vaccination rollout would outpace the spread of variants. Those currently account for about three-quarters of positive samples in the five boroughs, up from about 10 percent in January, according to a detailed report from health officials this week.
De Blasio says he believes the city would likely be in a much better position as far as its COVID numbers if not for the variants.
"We are concerned certainly in case of one variant of the particular negative effects it has," de Blasio said Wednesday of the U.K. variant, which has been linked to more severe outcomes. "That said, we've talked about this analogy for a while now, you know, running a race, you know, having a race against the variants. I think we're winning that race right now."
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said people will "likely" need a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated. His comments were made public Thursday but were taped April 1.
Bourla said it's possible people will need to get vaccinated against the coronavirus annually.
Ultimately, officials still believe existing vaccines protect against the variants that have emerged and those that will emerge over time. The hope, as de Blasio said, is that vaccinations will continue to increase at a faster rate than variants' prevalence.
He and others urge New Yorkers to get vaccinated and say the J&J pause shows that the protective system is working. It's not a reason not to get one's shots, they say.
To date, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have all vaccinated slightly more than a quarter of their respective populations.
Nationally, 31.1 percent of U.S. adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, while 49.1 percent have had at least one shot. The ratio is even higher for the 65 and older age group, of which 64.6 percent has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
President Joe Biden has set a Monday deadline for U.S. states to make all residents age 16 and older eligible for vaccination.