Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday called for the CDC to start a public relations campaign to educate and build confidence in the coronavirus vaccines. Credit: Craig Ruttle

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Jesse Coburn, Lisa L. Colangelo and Scott Eidler. It was written by Eidler.

Federal and local officials on Sunday sought major public awareness campaigns to boost confidence in the coronavirus vaccine, calling such outreach key to guarding against the skepticism many Americans have of the inoculations.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately begin a $1 billion "ad blitz" to publicize the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition to public service announcements and traditional advertisements, the promotional campaign could include community organizing, door-knocking and other efforts to confront misinformation and hesitancy about the vaccine, Schumer's office said.

The CDC needs to use funding provided in the American Rescue Plan — the federal relief package President Joe Biden signed into law March 11 — as soon as possible for the campaign, Schumer said at a Manhattan news conference.

While supply in New York is expected to increase to 1.65 million doses a week by the end of April, "too many people are still afraid of getting the vaccine," which could leave vaccine vials "sitting on a shelf," Schumer said.

"If people are afraid of taking the vaccine, it will delay our ability to beat COVID back," he said.

The American Rescue Plan provided funding to the CDC to "strengthen vaccine confidence," improve vaccine rates and provide information about the vaccines.

Twenty-two percent of Americans said they would not get the vaccine, according to a CBS News poll released earlier this month.

Between 70% to 85% of Americans need to get vaccinated for there to be "herd immunity," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease specialist, has said. Herd immunity occurs when enough Americans are protected against the virus that transmission is slowed.

A total of 322,538 Long Islanders had received a complete vaccine series as of numbers reported to the state by Sunday morning, according to a news release Sunday from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office.

The push for a promotional effort extended beyond Schumer to Long Island community leaders and arts lovers on Sunday, who put out a "call to artists" to deploy their creative talents in a public health advertising campaign aimed at combating vaccine skepticism.

A coalition of arts councils and local leaders gathered in Huntington Station to announce it will award $1,750 in prizes to local artists who produce works of art that encourage Long Islanders to take the vaccine.

Organizers say the initiative will encourage vaccination and get Long Island creatives involved in efforts to end a pandemic that has shuttered local cultural institutions and siphoned funding from the arts.

"Once supply amps up, as it is, the issue that's going to emerge is vaccine hesitancy," said Liz Alexander, one of the organizers and chief aide to Suffolk Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport). "So what better way to help break those barriers than to leverage the vision and the talents of artists?"

Long Island artists interested in participating may submit artworks for consideration at A jury in June will select five winning works, which will then appear on posters in local stores and online, Alexander said.

The initiative could provide local artists a meaningful way to combat a public health crisis that has hobbled their industry, said Lauren Wagner, director of the Long Island Arts Alliance.

"One of the biggest things that we can do right now as a sector, rather than just kind of sit and wait for everything to return to normal, is to be an active participant in this public health initiative," Wagner said.

A key goal of the campaign is to encourage vaccination in communities hit hardest by the pandemic or where vaccine hesitancy may be greater, organizers said.

"It's a touchy topic that needs to be handled with courtesy, with empathy," said Diego Garcia, an artist based in Farmingdale who grew up in Brentwood, the Long Island community with among the highest local rates of infection.

"There's a lot of polarized opinions about all this," he said. "Art is a safe and nonconfrontational way to approach it."

The issue is acute across the country, including on political lines. CBS News reported that 34% of Republicans would decline the shot, compared with 10% of Democrats.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison, a Republican, said it is "worrisome" that some members of his party are skeptical of taking the vaccine, calling it the result of a "natural resistance to government."

The push to promote the vaccine to more New Yorkers comes as the state eases up restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

On Monday, New York State's limit on outdoor residential gatherings will rise to 25 from 10, while the indoor limit of 10 people will remain. The limit on gatherings in public spaces will go from 50 to 100 people indoors, and from 50 to 200 outdoors.

Also Sunday, Cuomo's office said pharmacies can begin vaccinating people with comorbidities and existing health conditions.

The state Health Department said the new rules went into effect on March 17. Pharmacies had previously been providing vaccines to individuals who are 60 and over, school staff and child care workers.

People who fall into this group, which includes a wide range of health conditions including cancer, pulmonary disease, kidney disease and liver disease, must produce a letter, medical information or signed certification to show they are eligible.

On Saturday, Suffolk's positive rate for the virus was 5.4%. Nassau's was 5.1%.

Statewide, the positivity rate was 3.22%, Cuomo's office said in a news release.

The state positivity rate has remained stuck between 3.1% and 3.2% since late February. It has climbed incrementally in the past few weeks after plateauing from sharp post-holiday season levels.


Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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