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NEW YORK — The city will make it easier for residents to get COVID-19 vaccines by allowing walk-in appointments at all 35 city-run vaccination sites starting immediately, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday.
The city is also encouraging private community-run health centers to allow walk-ins and urging doctors to proactively contact their patients to encourage them to get their COVID-19 shots.
“You can just walk up and get vaccinated,” de Blasio said at his Friday news briefing. “We’re quite confident we can accommodate a much higher volume of walk-ins so we’re going to make that universal at all the city-run sites.”
City-run sites that will now accommodate walk-ins include the Museum of Natural History, the Coney Island YMCA, Citi Field, Lehman College in the Bronx and the Empire Outlets on Staten Island.
Before Friday, most city-run vaccination sites required people seeking inoculation to make an appointment. But after launching a walk-in pilot program earlier this month and experiencing an uptick in vaccine supply, the city opted to expand walk-ins significantly as part of its push to fully vaccinate 5 million residents by the end of June.
Vaccine supplies throughout the country temporarily dipped last week after the federal government recommended putting a hold on the use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of side effects that led to several deaths.
New York City, which had been using the J&J vaccine to inoculate home-bound seniors, halted its use as a result of the fed’s concerns, but the J&J pause appears likely to be lifted soon, which would further increase the availability of vaccines in the city.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said Friday that while the city is planning for different “eventualities” it’s ready to begin administering the J&J vaccine within a day or two of new guidelines from the federal government being released. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel gave its recommendation Friday that the J&J vaccine should continue to be distributed.
“The hoped-for outcome is that we will be able to resume using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” he said. “Operationally, we will be ready as soon as tomorrow to resume using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, depending on exactly what that outcome is.”
Citing a disproportionate amount of government distrust among minority and immigrant communities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative to vaccinate food service and delivery workers throughout the five boroughs.
The pop-up program will prioritize people who show proof they are employed by a grocery store or bodega in an effort to make it as easy as possible for those essential workers to get immunized. No appointment will be necessary.
“There’s vaccine hesitancy, yes that’s part of it,” Cuomo said during an event at the Mission Society of New York City. “ ‘Maybe I’m undocumented, I’m not so quick to walk into a government-sponsored facility.’ OK, we’ll make it easier. We’ll bring the vaccine to you. We’ll bring the vaccine to you through somebody you trust.
“Government won’t even show up, and we’ll make it available to you where you work,” he added.
Nonprofit health provider SOMOS will administer the program at grocery stores in Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem and on Staten Island, while Urban Health will dole out the inoculations at bodegas in the Bronx through five pop-up vaccination sites. Each site will have about 400 doses, the governor said.
Cuomo noted that Black Americans make up 27% of the city’s population, but just 19% of those who have been inoculated. Likewise, Latino New Yorkers make up 28% of the population, but 24% of those vaccinated.
“Essential workers have put their lives at risk to serve us in supermarkets, grocery stores and bodegas for the duration of the pandemic, and we owe them the support they need to get vaccinated for COVID-19,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
So far, 3.3 million New Yorkers have received at least one vaccine dose, and 2.2 million have been fully vaccinated, de Blasio said. More than 6 million doses have been administered in the city, both to city residents and people traveling here from outside the five boroughs.
“We’re almost two-thirds of the way there,” de Blasio said of his goal to fully vaccinate 5 million city residents. “So I feel really good.”
Despite the city’s relatively stable vaccine supply at this point, de Blasio sounded a note of caution, saying he doesn’t intend to ship any of it to other areas because of the possibility of future surges in demand.
“I think there are hundreds of thousands of people who will get a vaccination when it’s easy, and the fact that it’s easy now is something we embrace,” he said.
But he added a caveat.
“We shouldn’t overstate the moment. Right now supply and demand have come into much better balance than they were before,” he said. “But there’s a long road ahead.”
Cuomo noted that the statewide positivity rate is 2.03%, the lowest it’s been since Nov. 5.
There were 3,387 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday and another 45 virus-related deaths, the governor added.
“Don’t get cocky with COVID. It’s not over,” he said. “But we’re headed in the right direction.”
De Blasio visited the city’s vaccination site at the Museum of Natural History later Friday, where people can now receive their shots under the giant blue whale there.
The novelty of the site, he said, is part of the broader effort to entice more and more New Yorkers to get vaccinated.
“We’re going to make it fun and we’re going to make it easy and we’re going to make it exciting in lots of ways,” he said. “We gotta keep looking for every way that attracts people.”