New York City proposes vaccinating tourists in popular spots

Tourists visiting New York City may soon be able to get vaccinated under the bright lights of Times Square or in the shadows of the Empire State Building or Brooklyn Bridge.

That is the future that the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, is envisioning with a new initiative that would park vaccination vans in popular tourist spots across the city that can administer the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine to anyone who wants one.

“This is a positive message to tourists. ‘Come here, it’s safe, it’s a great place to be and we’re going to take care of you,’” De Blasio said at a press conference on Thursday announcing the plan.

The city said vans could go out as early as this weekend, though it would first need the state to modify its rules about administering vaccinations to non-New Yorkers who do not work in the state. The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, has yet to comment on De Blasio’s plan, though the state’s health department told NBC New York it had not received a formal plan from the city. (It is not clear how effective the vaccines would be during the tourists’ stay in New York City since most take two weeks for a full immune response.)

De Blasio’s plan would target domestic travelers as many international travelers are banned from entering the US under current federal regulations. Reported talks between the EU and the US over a vaccine passport have hinted at the possibility of summer travel between the two countries, though no confirmed plans have been announced.

While the city saw 66 million tourists in 2019, the numbers dropped to 22.9 million in 2020 as the pandemic limited travel to domestic tourists. The tourism industry brought $72bn into New York in 2019 and was supported by over 400,000 jobs.

If given the green light by the state, the program would give a quick inoculation to tourists looking to enter places that require a vaccination, something that might become commonplace in the city.

New York state has developed the Excelsior Pass, its own vaccine passport, to be used at large events. Even when businesses are allowed to reopen to full capacity, large indoor venues must require attendees to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test. Smaller businesses can sidestep social distancing regulations by also requiring verification.

The push to incentivize travel to New York comes at a time when the city is facing, like many places across the country, a slowing vaccination pace as those who were most eager to get the vaccine have already gotten it.

The city administered just over 30,000 doses on Thursday, a large decrease from a month ago when up to 115,000 doses were being administered a day. As of Friday morning, 56% of adult New Yorkers had received their first dose of the vaccine while 42% were fully vaccinated, according to city data.

Last week, De Blasio announced that the city’s goal would be to fully reopen by 1 July. On Monday, Cuomo, who criticized the date for being too far in the future, announced that most businesses in the state will be allowed to reopen to full capacity on 19 May.

As a perk for getting vaccinated, New Yorkers can get free baseball tickets to a Yankees or Mets game if they get vaccinated at one of the teams’ baseball stadiums. New Yorkers can also get free admission to the Museum of Natural History if they get vaccinated inside the museum.