On Wednesday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced New York State will raffle off 50 full scholarships, including tuition and room and board, to any public college or university, in an effort to encourage young people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale, Craig Schneider and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

Get a shot, get a free ride to college.

New York State will raffle off 50 full scholarships — including tuition and room and board — to any public college or university, in an effort to encourage young people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday.

The raffle program will start Thursday and run through July 7. Anyone from 12 to 17 years old who gets their first Pfizer shot will be eligible for the drawings, Cuomo said.

Each week, the state will award 10 of the scholarships in the random drawings held on Wednesdays.

Those who get the vaccine will be eligible for the raffle every week it is offered, not just the week they get the vaccine, Cuomo said.

What to know

  • New York State will raffle off 50 full scholarships to any public college or university as an incentive for young people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The raffle program starts Thursday and runs through July 7. Anyone 12 to 17 years old who gets their first Pfizer shot during that time will be eligible.
  • Prospective students must gain admission on merit to the college or university where they want to use the scholarship.

This is a "significant incentive" for students and their parents, he added.

"You're a parent, you're worried about paying college tuition?" he said. Then tell your child to "go out, get a shot. It protects the family, it protects the 12- to 17-year-old" and they might also win a free ride to college.

State officials said students must, on their own merits, gain admission to the college or university where they want to use the scholarship. They also said that if, for instance, a 12-year-old wins, the offer is still good in six years when he or she is ready for college.

Cuomo's office clarified that the scholarship offer applies to anyone from the ages of 12-to-17 who have received the vaccine, even before the official start date of the raffle.

The lottery offer apparently does not apply to private colleges.

Cuomo said there has been a 47% decline in the number of New Yorkers getting the vaccine. The lowest group to get vaccinated, at 8.7%, is 12- to 17-year-olds, he said.

Some parents on Long Island had mixed reactions to the lottery.

Paige Panzner-Kozek, of Lido Beach, said shehad been cautious about pursuing the shots for her children – Thelonious, 13, and Zsa Zsa, 12 – but decided to do it.

"We did it taking those risks," she said. "We take calculated risks all the time."

But Stacey Theroux, of Deer Park, said she refuses to have her kids vaccinated against COVID-19, no matter what the state offers as an incentive.

"They could offer a million dollars," Theroux said. "I’m not an anti-vaxxer but my kids are not getting it."

Theroux, who has not gotten the vaccine herself, said she worries about the side effects and long-term consequences for her children — Jeremy, 12; Frankie, 16; and Zoey, 9.

"I don’t trust it," she said.

Meanwhile, in New York City on Wednesday, the health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, said about 50,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 15 have been vaccinated in the city against the coronavirus as of last week.

"We expect that to increase by tens of thousands over the coming days and weeks," he said, speaking at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily news conference.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, speaking in upstate Rhinebeck at a meeting of statewide county executives that included de Blasio, said he wants children to get vaccinated.

"We’re talking about doing a program called Camp Vaxx. … We’re getting kids back to camp. We’re getting kids outdoors," he said. "We know that’s the safest environment that they can be in, so using that as an opportunity, and running a program where we can get kids safely vaccinated that are eligible to be vaccinated as we go through the summer."

Bellone did not provide details of the camp plans.

Separately, COVID-19 indicators continued to remain low on Long Island and across New York, according to the latest state data Wednesday.

The daily level of positive results in testing for the virus was 0.70%, the lowest since Aug. 30, Cuomo said.

The seven-day average was 0.69% on Long Island and 0.65% in New York City.

The number of new confirmed cases was 56 in Nassau, 42 in Suffolk and 346 in New York City.

Statewide, 17 people died on Tuesday of causes related to the virus, Cuomo said, underscoring that COVID-19 remains a danger.

In late May, Commack School District officials said students would no longer be required to wear masks at their desks or during recess or physical education classes, as long as they stayed six feet apart.

Officials noted at the time that Commack schools maintained six feet of social distancing in classrooms and were following guidance from the state Department of Health in making the change. That guidance said, "Six feet of distance is required when eating meals or snacks, or drinking, or other times masks must be removed."

But that decision has been changed at the direction of Cuomo's office, school officials said.

In a statement Wednesday, Commack officials said that even though it was "explained to the Governor’s office our strictness in keeping students six (6) feet apart since the beginning of the school year, they indicated that didn’t matter and we were directed that masks must be worn at all times."

Officials there on Wednesday said the district "will continue to advocate for changes at the state level that allow for parental choice as we work to provide the best possible learning environment for all children."

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Correction: Any New Yorker ages 12 to 17 who received at least the first COVID-19 vaccine shot — at any time — can be entered in the lottery for a full-ride scholarship at state colleges or universities at ny.gov. An earlier version of this story did not cite the correct time frame.

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