May 8, 2021

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NYC hits ‘tipping point’ of residents eager for vaccine — now comes the hard part



“We’ve hit the tipping point,” said Councilmember Mark Levine, who chairs the Council health committee. “It is not that we’re hitting a wall of people who are absolutely refusing to get a vaccine, but at this point people who are really motivated have almost all been able to do that. There’s a large group of people out there who are willing to get the vaccine as long as it’s accessible and easy, and the next stage of our work has to shift to reaching them, to taking vaccination to them.”

Ninety-nine percent of New Yorkers live within a mile of a Covid-19 vaccination site, said New York City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi. Yet the city has only made 26 of its more than 600 vaccination sites available for walk-in visits to residents 75 and older.

“There is something to be said for the need to get to minority populations, to get it in places that are convenient for people who can’t just have a scheduled time in the middle of the day to get it done,” said Tara Kirk Sell, senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It needs to be less inconvenient for people who work hourly jobs or don’t have a schedule that far out.”

The model for walk-in vaccinations has proven successful in cities like Philadelphia, where walk-ins helped improve Covid-19 inoculation rates among Black and Latino residents.

New York health officials said Thursday it’s too early to move away from the appointment model because the city needs to focus on managing smaller lines to maintain social distancing.

“What we want it to be is you can simply walk into your neighborhood pharmacy, your nearest doctor’s office or a city-operated site and get vaccinated, and those are going to be the critical turning points for when we could say we’re into a next phase of reopening,” said Jay Varma, the mayor’s senior health adviser. “That absolutely is the aspiration … but we’re definitely not there yet.”

What’s next: The city is looking at its vaccination effort through the lens of finding people who are eager to get the vaccine and using extensive resources, like canvassing and public service campaigns, to reach New Yorkers who are likely to get inoculated.

“If we’re in a situation for the months ahead, particularly thinking up to June when we want to get 5 million New Yorkers vaccinated, if you can go online and get an appointment any time, that’s the ideal,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at his daily press briefing. “Definitely seeing a decline in hesitancy, but we’ve got a lot more outreach work to do, and that’s what we’re deepening right now. We think there’s a whole ‘nother wave of people we can now get to.”

Varma added that because the city is still addressing vaccination gaps among older New Yorkers, low-income people and communities of color, it hasn’t focused yet on strategies to reach low-risk individuals.

Those people may be young and less likely to get sick from the virus, meaning they don’t feel as motivated to navigate the appointment system.

“We haven’t necessarily been looking at specific lower-risk groups to see where their hesitancy or reluctance might come from, but we certainly know this, not just from Covid but from all vaccine experiences,” he said.

Sell, the public health expert, said this new phase of vaccination will be a crucial one.

“This pivot is something that New York City is going to do, it’s something the rest of the country needs to do,” she said. “This is really the next phase: How do we get people who weren’t standing in line to get the vaccine? How do we get them the vaccine? We’re not out of this until we [all] get the vaccine.”