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NYC opens COVID-19 booster shots to all adults, health commissioner says

"There should be no barriers to accessing a

"There should be no barriers to accessing a booster shot," New York City Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said on Monday. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

New York City is opening COVID-19 booster shots to anyone who is over 18 years old, with the city's health commissioner saying there should be "no barriers" to getting the extra shot.

Gov. Kathy Hochul appeared to back the move, saying in a statement that anyone who feels they are at risk should get the booster. City officials said people do not have to be residents to benefit from the policy — meaning Long Islanders can travel into the city to get the shot.

The decision by New York City appears to make the shots more widely available than current U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance recommends.

On Long Island, one pharmacist said some pharmacies are already giving the booster to anyone over 18 who requests it and not interrogating them about whether they qualify.

Officials for Nassau and Suffolk counties said they were awaiting updated state guidance before making any decision about expanding booster eligibility.

What to know

  • New York City is opening COVID-19 booster shots to anyone who is over 18 years old. There is no residency requirement to receive the shot.
  • Gov. Kathy Hochul appeared to back the move, which the city's health commissioner said was done to be sure there are "no barriers" for those seeking the extra protection.
  • The city decision makes the shots more widely available that current CDC guidance recommends. Representatives from Nassau and Suffolk counties said they are awaiting updated state guidance before making any policy changes.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 indicators continued to escalate on Long Island and throughout the state in test results from Sunday.

New York City health commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said on Twitter Monday that he is issuing a "Commissioner’s Advisory to ALL health care providers emphasizing our guidance and ensuring there are no access barriers."

"Clinicians should allow adult patients to determine their own risk of exposure, based on their individual circumstances," Chokshi tweeted. "In practice, this means that providers should not turn a patient away if they request a booster … " as long as they are at least six months from their last dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or at least two months from the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

Current CDC guidance states that boosters can be given to people age 65 and older, as well as those 18 and older who have underlying serious health problems, or who live or work in a place that puts them at high risk of getting infected with COVID-19.

Anyone 18 and older is currently eligible for a Johnson & Johnson booster at least two months after the shot, according to the CDC.

De Blasio: The more boosters, the better

Asked at a virtual news conference if New York City is moving beyond the CDC guidance, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters: "I think the more people that get booster shots the better, and we should take the broadest interpretation, the most inclusive interpretation of who qualifies to ensure that people who want it, get it, [and] are not turned away."

Michael Lanza, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that there is no residency requirement for the booster shots and anyone qualifies.

At de Blasio's briefing, Chokshi said the new city policy is "consistent" with both the CDC and FDA guidance on the boosters.

Of special importance in the criteria for receiving the booster is a person’s risk of exposure to COVID-19, Chokshi said.

"This is often a very individual assessment of the risk depending on where people work, where they live, what their occupation is," he said.

"What we are trying to clarify today is that there should be no barriers to accessing a booster shot provided that someone is an adult, meaning 18 or older," and the required time has elapsed for each vaccine, Chokshi said.

Hochul seemed to support the move.

"As Governor, I am committed to protecting the health and safety of all New Yorkers, and with the holidays coming up, we must continue to do everything we can to keep New Yorkers safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19," she said in a statement.

"We know the vaccine not only slows the spread, but also improves outcomes and reduces the stress placed on our hospitals and health care system. Dr. Fauci recently noted that making the booster shot available to all is 'absolutely essential' to fighting this deadly virus — especially as people start to congregate indoors for holiday gatherings.

"I am strongly encouraging all New Yorkers who live or work in a high-risk setting to get the booster. I received the booster, and believe no one who feels they are at risk should be turned away from getting a COVID-19 booster shot. If you feel at risk, please get the booster."

Tom D’Angelo, who runs Americare Pharmaceutical Services in Garden City and Franklin Square Pharmacy, said some pharmacies on Long Island are effectively giving the booster to anyone over 18 who requests it.

"They are supposed to fit one of those criteria to get it, but we’re not supposed to ask questions," said D’Angelo, who is also president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. "We are having them fill out the required paperwork and checking off that they qualify and that’s it."

Nassau officials said the county "will continue to follow New York State guidance regarding eligibility."

An official for Suffolk County said: "We are considering all options but waiting for CDC and NYS DOH to update their guidance."

COVID-19 indicators continue rising

COVID-19 indicators continued a steady climb upward in state data released Monday.

The seven-day average in positivity in testing for the virus increased from 3.03% to 3.12% to 3.33% on Long Island over the last three days. Statewide, the average went from 3.12% to 3.21% to 3.30%.

The average on Long Island had fallen to nearly 2% several weeks ago, but then started a steady rise. During a summer increase fueled by the delta variant, it had hit 4%.

The Island continued to produce hundreds of new cases of COVID-19, according to the data released Monday. Nassau tallied 322 new cases in test results from Sunday, while Suffolk had 479. New York City registered 1,047 new cases.

Statewide, 27 people died on Sunday of causes linked to the virus, including one fatality in Suffolk.

The state said that as of Monday morning, 64,579 children in New York City ages 5 to 11 years old had received the Pfizer vaccine, and 65,368 elsewhere in the state, for a total of 129,947. The vaccine was recently approved for that age group.

The debate over boosters has spread to other parts of the country beyond New York.

California, Colorado, New Mexico and West Virginia have given the go-ahead for all adults to get the shots.

At a White House briefing last Wednesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, emphasized the importance of getting boosters to those already eligible under the federal guidelines. She also stressed the importance of vaccinating children ages 5-11.

"As you likely know, FDA is currently looking at the data for expanding boosters to all populations," Walensky said.

Pfizer asked U.S. regulators last week to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 or older, a step that comes amid concern about increased spread of the coronavirus with holiday travel and gatherings.

With Matthew Chayes and AP

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