More residents of New York will soon be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, including a wide swath of public-facing employees and those older than 60—a five-year drop from the current threshold.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the expansion during an appearance in Syracuse on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the governor added later that nonprofit employees must interact with people in need in order to qualify—for example, outreach workers for the unhoused or social workers. They also said that the state plans to release guidance for providers on how to verify eligibility for the vaccine.
The governor also announced that, starting on March 15th, all vaccination sites across the city can start administering doses to anyone who qualifies—with the exception of pharmacies, which will be reserved for teachers and those who meet the age requirements.
This shift would mean that community-focused sites, such as Medgar Evers and York College, will soon be opened to all New Yorkers who qualify—a reversal of previous pledges to save some access to large-scale sites for underserved race and ethnic groups. In recent weeks, the state has indicated a move toward reaching those communities through small-scale drives hosted by community-based groups such as churches and pop-up clinics. The governor's announcement also appears to remove some city and county control over vaccine sites at a time when some legislators in Albany have sought to roll back his emergency pandemic powers.
In a statement following Cuomo's announcement, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio applauded the eligibility expansion, but stressed that the city needs more supplies of vaccine to meet demand, and more control at the local level over how the vaccines are distributed.
“This is all great news," de Blasio said. "But to get our vaccination effort running at maximum speed, there’s still so much more that we need. We need more supply to vaccinate as many New Yorkers as possible. New York City hasn’t had a single week where we had enough supplies to hit our current capacity of half a million vaccines administered per week. We also need more local control. That means being able to tell our sites and providers the number of doses they’ll get each week, every week, so they can plan ahead to conduct outreach and schedule appointments.”
The age-based changes to eligibility go into effect at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, allowing any New Yorker over 60 to book a dose. On March 17th, vaccine appointments will become available for public-facing government employees, "not-for-profit workers who provide public-facing services to New Yorkers in need," and essential "in-person public-facing building service workers," according to Cuomo's announcement.
That includes social service and child service caseworkers, government inspectors, sanitation staff, DMV employees, county clerks, building service workers, and election staff, the governor's announcement stated.
"These are the people who are the everyday heroes, who are out there doing their job, they're putting themselves in a possible position of exposure," Cuomo said on Tuesday. "They are essential for us to continue operating. They are going to become eligible on March 17th."
Inquiries to the Governor's Office were not immediately returned. The new details were added to the state's vaccine eligibility page Tuesday afternoon.
Eligible New Yorkers will be able to schedule appointments at state vaccination sites by utilizing New York's 'Am I Eligible' website or by calling the state's COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).
Editor's note: This story was updated with details about who qualifies as a nonprofit employee. Katherine Fung contributed to reporting.