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The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan in New York

  • COVID-19 vaccinations are now open to New Yorkers age 65 years and older following an announcement by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has agreed to implement new recommendations made by the federal government.
  • Also included are those are immunocompromised along with healthcare workers and frontline workers.
  • New York is continuing to offer vaccines to its highest priority group - health care workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities. The state has received 1,796,850 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna and has so far administered 632,473. Both drugs have been granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Vaccine news is changing quickly. Check this guide for updates in the days ahead. 
  • Because many older New Yorkers so far have been unable even to schedule a vaccine appointment by phone or on line, AARP New York on January 13 called on Governor Cuomo to improve the process to ensure eligible New Yorkers can schedule such an appointment, either by phone or on line. You can see our letter to the Governor here

When can older adults get the vaccine?  

Covid Vaccine Trial
Boston Globe/Boston Globe via Getty Images

New Yorkers 65 and up can now sign up to get vaccinated, but it’s not clear how quickly they can get an appointment. In opening up eligibility to the 65-plus and the immunocompromised, Cuomo said there are now nearly seven million New Yorkers eligible to get vaccinated. "I urge patience as unfortunately there are far more eligible New Yorkers than there is vaccine supply from the federal government," he said Tuesday.

State health officials are emphasizing that all COVID-19 vaccinations are by appointment only, adding that New York receives 300,000 doses a week from the federal government.

Meanwhile, vaccinations continue with New York's top priority group: high-risk hospital workers (emergency room, ICU and pulmonary department staff in the hardest-hit COVID-affected communities) and staff and residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 

Before this week’s changes were announced, phase 2 of the state plan opened up COVID-19 vaccines to other long-term care residents, such as those in assisted living. Vaccines were also to be made available to another designated group of essential frontline workers, including grocery store employees, food processing and manufacturing staff, and others working in public-facing industries. Information about the next phases of the state plan have yet to be released.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Jan. 12 that they strongly recommend that states open vaccines to those age 65 and over, a non-binding recommendation that New York decided to opt into. The department also urged states to give vaccines to all adults with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, including diabetes, chronic lung or heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. HHS also said it would begin releasing all available vaccines, rather than holding back second doses, and that Americans would still be able to get second doses on time.

AARP is fighting for older Americans to be prioritized in getting COVID-19 vaccines because the science has shown that older people are at higher risk of death.

Where can I get a vaccine?   

All vaccinations are by appointment only and, according to the New York state COVID-19 website, which is updated daily, the next 14 weeks are booked. The site urges eligible New Yorkers to call local health department, doctors' offices, hospitals and pharmacies for appointments as they become available.

The department of health has also launched an online tool  to help determine eligibility and vaccination sites across the state. You can also see vaccination locations  on the state's COVID-19 website and via its vaccination hotline, through which eligible New Yorkers can also schedule appointments: 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829). 

New York City has its own online tool to find vaccination sites. Yankee Stadium may soon be used as a mass vaccination site, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said a "plan is in motion" to add it to a list of other numerous sports and entertainment venues around the country.

How do I know when I’m able to get a vaccine? 

AARP recommends that you talk to your doctor about the safety, effectiveness, benefits, and risks of the COVID-19 vaccine. Older adults, especially those with underlying medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes, are at increased risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19. 

You can find updates about the availability of the vaccine for various groups on the New York State Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine website. The department’s “Am I Eligible” site is designed help users find vaccine sites and to schedule appointments. You can also call the state’s vaccine hotline: 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829). 

I’ve heard that some vaccines require a second shot. 

The initial COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer’s and one from Moderna require two doses. If you get one of these vaccines, you’ll need a follow-up dose a few weeks later to be effectively immunized. “What you have is you get some degree, not optimal, but some degree of immunity a couple of weeks after the first dose,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in December. “That’s not optimal. After the second dose, you get optimal immunity anywhere from seven to 10 days after the second dose.”

You may receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you where, when, and which type of vaccine you received, according to the CDC. Under New York’s interim distribution plan, your entire immunization process will be tracked by a statewide database known as NYSIIS, the New York State Immunization Information System. The system will be used to remind you to get a second dose of the vaccine via postcards, robocalls, and text messages. 

The CDC has launched a web tool called v-safe that lets you sign up for text message reminders for your second vaccine appointment and report possible side effects. 

How will nursing homes and other long-term care residents get the vaccine? 

The federal government has contracted with CVS and Walgreens to administer the COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to long-term care residents and staff. The two national drugstore chains say that more than 48,000 of the 50,000 skilled nursing and assisted living communities in the U.S. are participating in the program.  New York has opted into the federal nursing home vaccination program

Do I have to pay for the vaccination?  

AARP fought to make sure the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself. But the CDC says vaccine providers may still charge a fee for giving someone a shot. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has said the vaccine will be administered free of charge to Medicare beneficiaries, with no copays. Some health insurance companies have also announced that there won’t be out-of-pocket costs for policyholders.

To help ensure New Yorkers are able to access the vaccine at no cost, the Department of Financial Services has also issued a directive to New York health insurers to immediately cover, without cost-sharing, approved COVID-19 immunizations and their administration.

There are already reports of scammers purporting to offer COVID vaccines and treatments and trying to charge for them.AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is tracking the latest scams. 

How long does immunity last after I get vaccinated? 

It’s not yet known how long immunity from a coronavirus vaccine lasts and whether it needs to be administered on a regular basis like the flu shot.  

Should I still wear a mask after getting vaccinated? 

Yes. Experts still need to learn more about the protection the vaccines provide under “real-world conditions,” the CDC says. It could take your body a few weeks to build up immunity after the second dose of a vaccine. And while the Pfizer vaccine is effective at preventing symptoms of COVID-19, it’s not yet clear whether someone who’s been vaccinated can still catch the virus and transmit it to others.

Gov. Cuomo said the public needs to remain vigilant even after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. “We need people to continue to do the right thing and the smart thing all through the holiday season,” he said at an event with the first person to get vaccinated in the United States. “Everyone needs to stay vigilant: wear your mask, wash your hands, maintain social distance, and above all stay New York tough."

The vaccine is just one tool that can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC says it could take months for the population to build up immunity, and it continues to recommend preventive measures such as face masks and social distancing.    

AARP has also called for ongoing monitoring of vaccines, once they are authorized for public use, to identify any risks that weren’t evident in the expedited development and review process.  

Also of Interest: 
What Is Emergency Use Authorization for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments?  
How Vaccination Will Work in Nursing Homes  
Read our full coronavirus coverage 

This guide was originally published in December 2020. It was updated on Jan. 14 with new information on proposed mass vaccination sites in New York City.

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