ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — As the pace of COVD-19 vaccinations has slowed, New York officials are trying a mix of mandates and incentives to overcome hesitancy, including free subway rides.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state can't mandate vaccines until they get full approval from the federal government. If that happens, New York will require students of the state's and New York City's public university and college systems to get vaccinated to attend in-person classes this fall, Cuomo said in a Monday press conference in New York City.
“If you must have a vaccine, get it now,” Cuomo said. "If you have to get it anyway.”
And anyone who gets vaccinated at one of six New York City subway stations from Wednesday through Sunday will receive a free seven-day MetroCard, New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg said. Feinberg said subway ridership reached a recent high of 2.23 million riders on Friday.
The Long Island Railroad and Metro-North is also offering vaccination sites at two stations in Ossining and Hempstead. Those who get vaccinated can receive two free one-way trips.
Cuomo and transit officials said they hope pop-up vaccination sites will increase vaccination rates and ease riders’ minds as New York City’s subways prepare to resume 24/7, around-the-clock operations on May 17.
Feinberg said the program is open to the public as well as employees. About 50%, or 35,000, of transit workers have received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far, according to New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Pat Foye.
So far, 39.4%, or 7.7 million, of New York residents are fully vaccinated, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
But state data shows the number of residents getting vaccinated each day is dropping in line with national trends, with lower rates among young people. Nearly three-fourths of people between 65 and 74 years old are fully vaccinated, according to Cuomo, compared with one-fourth of people between the ages of 16 and 25.
Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately respond to question Monday about whether faculty and staff at public universities will have to get vaccinated, too. The state’s public university system has nearly 400,000 students enrolled, while the City University of New York has roughly 270,000 students.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would start offering incentives for vaccinations including tickets to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Bronx Zoo, events at Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team and the NYCFC soccer club.
The mayor said he'd provide specifics later this week.
“We’re going to be giving out the details in the next few days, but from this point on there’ll be many, many opportunities to get great, great prizes when you get vaccinated,” de Blasio said at a virtual briefing. “We want people to know, it’s time.”
AP writer Karen Matthews reported from New York.