With a flawed early rollout full of political squabbling and concerns about doses going unused, the first month of vaccine distribution in New York — as in most states — did not inspire confidence in the historically massive effort. But with new expansions of who can access the vaccine, much larger numbers of New Yorkers are now eligible to get inoculated in the coming weeks. Below, a guide to the process.
Who can currently sign up for the vaccine?
On January 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar instructed all states to open up vaccinations to all Americans over the age of 65 in order to speed up the sluggish vaccine rollout thus far. The same day, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New Yorkers above the age of 65, those with preexisting conditions, and those considered immunosuppressed can also sign up to get their first of two doses.
That means over 7 million New York residents are now eligible for immunization in the current tier known as 1b, which was expanded last week to include:
- first responders (police, EMT, and firefighters)
- public-safety workers
- public-transit workers
- the 1.4 million New Yorkers who are over 75
- pharmacy clerks, cashiers, stock workers, and delivery staff
Many of these groups were previously scheduled for later access to the vaccine. The rule changes last week also allow for medical providers to give the vaccine to any public-facing employees if there are extra doses in a vial and no one from “the priority population can come in before the doses expire.” Additionally, the changes also allow more medical professionals to administer the vaccine, including pharmacists, dentists, podiatrists, and licensed practical nurses.
Phase 1 prioritized health-care workers in patient-care settings, long-term-care-facility workers, and at-risk long-term-care-facility patients. Phase 1a added any health-care worker providing in-person services, pharmacists, and most health-care staff.
If I’m eligible, how do I sign up?
As of January 11, those who are eligible in tier 1b can sign up online, though Governor Cuomo warned that it would take weeks for all those eligible in phase 1b to be vaccinated.
To determine eligibility, the state has an online screener which requires residents to answer questions determining if their age or employment qualifies them under the 1B guidelines for a shot. After completing the online form, those eligible are directed to a site listing vaccination sites, with links and phone numbers to make appointments. The governor said to prepare to schedule an appointment as far as “three months from today. That’s based on the necessity of the supply we receive.”
The state also launched a hotline on January 11: 1-833-NYS-4VAX.
In New York City, the Health Department has set up a portal called the NYC COVID Vaccine Finder to help residents schedule appointments. But as Gothamist notes, “the Health Department and NYC Health + Hospitals still have sign-up sites for their locations, and clinics or other smaller healthcare centers have their individual sign-up processes as well.” With the NYC Health Department requiring residents to answer around 50 questions in the verification process, it raises immediate concerns about accessibility for older New Yorkers and those without access to computers.
Mass inoculation sites are now being set up to expand the vaccine rollout. On January 12, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Citi Field will open later in January as a 24/7 vaccination site which could give shots to as many as 7,000 people per day. Several other mass vaccination sites are set to open by the end of January, including Javits Center, Jones Beach, Westchester County Center, Utica Memorial Auditorium, SUNY Postdam, and SUNY Stony Brook.
If I’ve received the first shot, how do I get the second?
For those that have already gotten their first dose, their inoculation information will be entered into the New York State Immunization Information System run by the Department of Health. The system will remind residents to get a second vaccine dose via mailers, robocalls, and text messages. The provider who administered the first dose is responsible for administering the second; the state’s guideline say “providers must schedule the second dose appointment for recipients at the time the first dose is administered.”
What if I’m not eligible yet?
Most of New York state’s 19.45 million residents are not yet eligible for vaccination. And while the governor’s office stated in mid-December that the next phase could begin in late January, his recent warning that Phase 1A New Yorkers should prepare to schedule appointments as far as “three months from today” suggests a significant wait.
What are some of the current supply delays?
Due to the Trump administration’s failure to secure enough doses to support the CDC’s new recommendations speeding up the vaccination process, there is currently a shortage of vaccines in New York and many other states. On January 20, the New York City Health Department announced it would close 15 of its vaccination centers on until January 22 due to the shortage — resulting in 22,000 rescheduled shot appointments and a pause on new appointments.
On the same day, Governor Cuomo detailed some of the state’s vaccine access woes:
“Only Jesus with loaves and fishes could handle the situation that the federal government created,” Cuomo said. “Because they created such a demand and they never increased the supply.”