This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters.
New York City is extending its $100 vaccine incentive to young children getting vaccinated at school sites or city-run clinics, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
“We really want kids to take advantage, families to take advantage of that,” de Blasio told reporters. “Everyone can use a little more money around the holidays, but more importantly, we want our kids and families to be safe.”
Following the recent federal emergency approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, city officials are setting up one-day vaccine clinics at more than 1,000 school sites across the city that serve these students.
Children who get their COVID shots at schools or at other city clinics across the five boroughs will be eligible for the $100 incentive that the city has offered since late-July to new vaccine recipients getting their shots at city-run sites.
Once children get their first dose, families will receive an email with instructions on how to select a pre-paid $100 debit card or another incentive, including free tickets to sporting events or city attractions. Families can also call 877-VAX4NYC for more information.
Second Dose Shuffle
Second doses, which must be administered at least three weeks after the first, won’t be available at school sites, unlike previous school-based vaccine efforts. However, staff will help families set up their next appointments, city officials said.
Schools are not planning to offer the second dose because they are not as popular as other places for vaccination, such as a pediatrician’s office or a clinic, according to de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi.
The 700 pop-up school clinics set up during the first week of school this year — which also offered doses to family members and staff — vaccinated about 7,000 people, said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the city’s education department. That is an average of 10 vaccines per site.
“We want to make sure we broaden our network as much as possible for people to get their first doses as quickly as they possibly can, and schools are a great site for us to be able to do that,” Chokshi said.
“That being said, we do have a very robust network pediatricians, pharmacies, our own city sites, and so we’ll help people to navigate to get their second dose at a place that will remain convenient for them, and we can say that with confidence because of the breadth of network we have for vaccination across New York City.”
The city is considering tweaking its parental consent process for children to get vaccinated at schools. Initially, city officials said parents and guardians must provide verbal consent for their children to get shots at school — either by accompanying their children or being available by phone if another adult goes with the child.
But acknowledging that many parents may not be able to accompany their children, de Blasio said Thursday the city may allow parents or guardians to sign a written consent form and call the school to confirm they signed off on it.
The city was consulting the state and the city’s own legal counsel on the matter, de Blasio said, but he did not immediately have more details on the possible change.
Masked and Answered
The newly approved shots mean that most New York City students can get vaccinated. Despite that, de Blasio and his health advisors are not ready to remove the mask mandate inside of schools.
Dr. Jay Varma, a health advisor to the mayor, noted that the virus has evolved a lot over time, making it difficult to predict what level of vaccination can allow the city to peel back on COVID safety rules.
“The reality is we all want, as public health professionals, to also go back to the day that we and our children don’t have to wear masks and feel the way they did before the pandemic,” Varma said.
“But also, as Dr. Chokshi has noted, we’re also very thankful that our measures to keep transmission controlled in schools has been working, and so we do feel an obligation, I think — especially given the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty about what level of vaccination will make us all feel like we’re back to normal.”
As of Wednesday, 12% of children ages 12 to 17 had not yet received at least one dose of the vaccine.
This school year to date, 5,064 students — or roughly .5% of the city’s school population — have tested positive for COVID, according to the education department. In that time period, 2,019 classrooms have been fully closed for quarantines, while 3,196 classrooms have seen partial closures.