Virginia K. Smith
New Yorkers have spent the past month eagerly awaiting their chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine, closely following shifting regulations and agonizing over the slow rollout —and that was before the city started running out of doses.
On Wednesday, the NYPD halted its rollout of vaccines for officers in response to the current shortage, and the city’s health department was forced to reschedule 23,000 vaccine appointments due to a delay in a shipment of doses from Moderna. Nearly 495,000 total doses of the vaccine have been administered in the city thus far, and New York City is expected to fall short of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s stated goal of vaccinating one million residents by the end of January.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that New York state is expected to receive another 250,000 vaccine doses next week, and implored the newly inaugurated President Joe Biden to increase supply to states immediately.
“At this rate, we only have two or three days of supply,” Cuomo said. “We’ll start to get the next week’s allocation but what’s clear now is we’re going to be going from week to week, and you will see a constant pattern of running out, waiting for the next week’s allocation, then starting up again.”
Initially, state regulations only allowed vaccinations for people in phase 1a, which is largely restricted to frontline health-care workers as well as staff and residents in nursing homes. But amid reports that unused vaccine doses were being thrown away , as well as new CDC guidance encouraging vaccination of anyone over the age of 65, Cuomo recently announced a loosening of state rules and expansion to phase 1b, a much broader category that covers essential workers including grocery store employees, public health and transit workers, education workers, public safety employees, and adults over the age of 65.
With millions of New Yorkers now eligible, appointments for the vaccine have filled up quickly, leading to reports of sites now booked up months in advance, as well as extreme difficulties navigating the often-confusing scheduling process.
“I want to emphasize how big of a problem the lack of supply is,” said Mark Levine, New York City councilman and health committee chair. “Our stocks are dwindling down to no more than a few days’ worth. That dwarfs other concerns.”
Still, vaccinations in the city are moving forward, and while information on the ground is shifting rapidly, here are the basics New Yorkers should know about getting the all-important COVID-19 vaccine:
Until further notice New York will stay in phases 1a and 1b, with phase 1c (people with underlying health conditions, and other essential workers to be determined) expected in March or April, and Phase 2 (which covers everyone else) expected sometime in the summer.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials have been abundantly clear on this point: The COVID-19 vaccine will be free for all New Yorkers, regardless of where you get it.
This is important to note because some city residents have reported receiving texts or calls from scammers claiming to be contact tracers, who then ask for credit card information and offer to set up vaccine appointments.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is free to all New Yorkers,” a representative from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in an emailed statement. “Please only use official channels and trusted sources, such as visiting nyc.gov/VaccineFinder or calling 877-VAX-4NYC, to book vaccine appointments.”
Levine also advised asking anyone who claims to be a contact tracer for their verification code, which you can then plug into the Validate My Tracer tool on the New York City Health and Hospitals website to confirm if they’re legitimate.
“There’s no scenario where you’d have to pay via credit card or any other means,” Levine added.
Current information about who is eligible, where to find vaccines, and other frequently asked questions is available online at the New York City Vaccine Command Center . The city is also sending out regular COVID-19 text alerts, including updates on eligibility and distribution, to anyone who texts COVID to 692-692.
Some individual health-care providers are sending updates to existing patients, as well, and a representative for NYU Langone said in an emailed statement, “We are notifying each NYU Langone Health patient individually by email and text based on their eligibility and our available supply. We ask that our patients do not call their NYU Langone provider about the COVID-19 vaccine at this time as patients cannot schedule a vaccination until they are notified. We encourage patients to visit the NYU Langone Health website as well for information regarding how the vaccine is being distributed.”
Check with your individual health-care provider for their specific plan and policy.
This is where things get significantly more complicated. The vaccine is available at certain pharmacies, hospitals and a growing number of state- and city-run sites, including a large-scale vaccination hubs at the Javits Center in Manhattan, and forthcoming mass vaccination sites at Citi Field in Queens and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
To find a location near you and make an appointment, the NYC COVID-19 Vaccine Finder tool is searchable by ZIP Code and also includes a regularly updated map of vaccine locations around the city, including contact information, whether an appointment is required, a link to appointment scheduling information for that specific site, and information on which vaccine is being distributed at that location. (Currently only the Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.98% and Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +4.33% vaccines, both of which rely on similar safe and well-tested medical technology , are available, but New Yorkers with a strong brand preference could theoretically use this tool or otherwise do research in advance to schedule an appointment at a location that’s distributing their vaccine of choice.)
Appointments can also be set up over the phone via the state’s hotline (1-833-NYS-4-VAX) as well as a hotline run by the city (1-877-VAX-4NYC).
Actually scheduling an appointment may not be so straightforward, however. There have been numerous reports of New Yorkers struggling to navigate different providers’ vaccine portals, as well as reports of appointments disappearing, websites crashing and hotlines so busy it’s impossible to reach anyone for help.
“The system we have now is so disjointed and difficult to navigate, I fear it’s blocking out the most vulnerable people, especially seniors,” Levine said. “We need something like what you see on travel websites, where tons of different airline booking systems are unified into a single interface. You should be able to do a single screening and have a unified view of scheduling, and we just don’t have that.”
When you do manage to make an appointment, you’re required to fill out a NYS COVID-19 Vaccine Form online prior to the appointment. If you’re eligible based on your job, come to your appointment with proof of employment (such as an employee ID card or letter from your employer), or if you’re eligible based on age, bring an ID or other form of proof of your age.