SUBSCRIBE NOW

Have questions about NY's COVID-19 vaccine system? Here are some answers.

Sarah Taddeo Jon Campbell
New York State Team

More than 2 million New Yorkers have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine so far, but the multi-pronged distribution system has many residents still lacking answers on when and how to get inoculated. 

The USA TODAY Network New York asked for your questions about the state's system for distributing and administering the coronavirus vaccine. More than 200 of you responded with quality inquiries about scheduling appointments, eligibility requirements and so much more.

More:New York COVID vaccine rollout: Join us for a live Q&A Thursday at noon

We took your inquiries to the state Department of Health and other officials who oversee the system or otherwise have knowledge of it.

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we received. If you have further questions, you can submit them here and we may answer them at a future date.

Questions

If I turn 65 in the next few months, can I make a vaccine appointment now? 

Only currently eligible New Yorkers — including those 65 or older at the time of scheduling — should schedule an appointment, according to the Department of Health.

New Yorkers can visit www.Am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov to determine eligibility and schedule appointments at New York State-run vaccination sites only.

In addition to state-run sites, vaccines are available at pharmacies, hospitals and through local health departments statewide.

What happens if I test positive for COVID-19 after having received my first dose?

If you test positive for COVID-19 — even if it's in between your two vaccination shots — the guidance remains the same: Stay home in isolation. Wait to get further vaccinations until after your illness has resolved and you have met the criteria to discontinue isolation.

There is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine, but residents should get the second shot as close to the recommended 3-week (Pfizer) or 1-month (Moderna) interval as possible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

What happens if there aren't enough vaccines available when I need my second dose? Do I have to start over?  

Second dose appointments will be booked by the site where you receive your first shot. Some sites are scheduling them before you leave the vaccination site; others are promising to follow up with an appointment.

Under the current system, second doses are being reserved by the federal government and state for each person who receives a first dose. 

"The second shot is in a separate allocation that isn't counted in the weekly incoming allocation. That's set aside for that person," Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said during a Jan. 15 briefing on COVID-19 vaccinations

When will doctors' offices be administering the vaccine? 

There is no blanket timeline for this, but the state has been encouraging residents to contact their individual health care providers to inquire about appointments to get vaccinated. 

I'm a New York resident. Can I receive a vaccine outside of New York? 

This is at the discretion of each individual state.

Florida, for example, had been allowing non-residents to get vaccinated, which led some from out of state to travel there in order to be inoculated. That's since changed: Last week, Florida's surgeon general issued an order requiring proof of residency to cut down on "vaccine tourism."

Is there a central place to find a list of New York locations offering the vaccine other than state-run sites?

There was, but not anymore.

When the state launched its Am I Eligible online page earlier this month, it initially included a locator tool that allowed people to plug in their address and see all the nearby pharmacies, hospitals, local health departments and state-run sites that were registered to administer the vaccine.

But within days, the state — acting on guidance from the CDC — expanded eligibility to those over the age of 65, which helped pushed the total pool of those eligible to 7.1 million.

Junko Mills, a RN, vaccinates a person against COVID-19, giving them their first round.  The Dome Arena in Henrietta is one of the state COVID-19 vaccination sites with today, January 20, 2021 being their first day in operation.

There were problems right out of the gate. Pharmacies and local health departments were bombarded with calls before they were even in a position to take appointments. And the traffic from eager vaccine-seekers overloaded the state website, causing it to crash.

By mid-January, the state stripped down its online locator tool to only include the 15 state-run mass vaccination sites. The site encourages visitors to call their local pharmacies and county health departments to inquire about vaccine availability there.

"People should call their local pharmacies, people should call their local health departments, people should call their local hospitals and see if they have availability to make an appointment," DeRosa, Cuomo's top aide, said at the Jan. 15 coronavirus briefing. "It’s now removed from the state site, so you remove all that traffic from the state site so it can function better.”

Some counties and local governments have their own vaccine locator tools, including New York City. Check with your local health department.

What identification or work documents do I need to bring with me to the appointment?  

Individuals must provide proof of eligibility at their vaccine appointments, according to the state.

If an individual is eligible due to their employment status, they must prove they are employed in the state of New York, such as: 

  • An employee ID card or badge
  • A letter from an employer or affiliated organization
  • A pay stub, depending on the specific priority status
     

If an individual is eligible due to their age, they must produce proof of age and proof of residence in New York, such as one of the following:

  • State or government-issued ID, including driver's license or non-driver ID
  • Birth certificate issued by a state or local government
  • Current U.S Passport or valid foreign passport
  • Permanent resident card
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
  • Life insurance policy with birthdate
  • Marriage certificate with birthdate
  • Statement from landlord
  • Current rent receipt or lease
  • Mortgage records,

OR

Any two of the following:

  • Statement from another person
  • Current mail
  • School records

Can you give your vaccine appointment to someone else? 

No, you can't. Each appointment is specific to the person who was eligible and scheduled to receive the vaccination at that time and in that location.  

Are people with underlying conditions eligible to receive the vaccine in New York?

The short answer: Yes, some are.

The long answer: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Feb. 5 that the state would grant vaccine eligibility to those with comorbidities starting on Feb. 15, with their local health departments getting leftover doses from hospitals to help make it happen.

The list of comorbidities making a person vaccine-eligible was released by the state Friday, and mirrors the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of medical conditions that could increase one's risk of severe illness due to COVID-19. 

It includes cancers, kidney disease, pulmonary disease, intellectual and developmental disabilities, weakened immune systems, severe obesity, pregnancy, heart conditions and a number of others. 

Why are pharmacies only vaccinating those who are 65 or older?

On Jan. 19, the state Department of Health issued guidance to facilities administering the vaccine laying out which population they should be prioritizing.

Retail pharmacies and physician networks or practice groups were instructed to vaccinate only those over the age of 65 after vaccinating their own staff.

Hospitals were instructed to focus on frontline health care workers.

Local health departments were told to vaccinate essential workers in Phase 1B, such as teachers and grocery store workers.

Are there specific accessibility measures required at state vaccination sites, like provided wheelchairs? 

Every state-run vaccination site is accessible for those with disabilities, with assistance and wheelchairs available onsite, according to the state Department of Health. 

New Yorkers with disabilities should also contact their health care provider about getting vaccinated.

Are there plans to vaccinate those who can’t leave their homes? 

The state has not released a statewide plan or strategy to vaccinate older adults or others who don’t leave their homes, although some counties, like Albany County and Rensselaer County, have launched their own efforts to do so. 

“If there’s an area that we need to devote a little more attention to, it’s this,” said Beth Finkel, AARP’s New York State Director. “Can we get the vaccine to people's homes who are homebound? If someone needs really extensive transportation like an ambulance, that is not in place.” 

Another related issue is the inoculation of home health aides or caregivers, who are often the ones physically closest to homebound adults during the day while adult children are working. These individuals were eligible to receive the vaccine starting in January, but many have not yet received or opted to receive the vaccine, Finkel said. 

“You can’t force someone to take the vaccine if they don’t want to, yet they’re coming in and doing very intimate tasks with your loved one,” she said. “How do we ensure that the people who are providing care for them are protected so that the person who’s in their home and can’t get out is protected?”

Do you need to bring proof of an underlying conditions when you go for vaccine?

If you booked a vaccine because you have a qualifying underlying health condition, the state Department of Health says you will have to provide one of three things at the time of your appointment:

  • A doctor's letter
  • Medical information that shows evidence of your comorbidity
  • A signed legal certification in which you attest you have the condition

Reporters David Robinson and Sean Lahman contributed to this article. 

Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network's New York State Team. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or (585) 258-2774. Follow her on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Please consider becoming a digital subscriber.