Governor announces #VaxtoSchool campaign to help boost vaccination rates among children

New York State launched a new website dedicated to providing information on the COVID-19 vaccine for parents and guardians of school-age children as a way to boost the vaccination rate for eligible kids between 12 and 17 years old.

About 50% of kids in that age group are currently fully vaccinated, the lowest percentage of any age group, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.

“I’m calling on parents, I’m calling on anyone who can influence this process,” she said. “Only 50% is not where it needs to be. We have to make sure that gets higher.”

The governor announced the launch of a digital “multi-faceted statewide #VaxtoSchool campaign” that includes a new Instagram channel, @VaccinateNY, aimed at educating school-aged New Yorkers and their families.

“The new social media page will provide approachable, interactive content through easy-to-understand vaccine information, prospective content partnerships, #VaxtoSchool social media design contests, and quick video explainers, ensuring that no stone is left unturned in our effort to provide all New Yorkers with the facts about the COVID-19 vaccine,” an announcement from the governor’s office said.

Ms. Hochul said Wednesday the campaign is about “prioritizing the health of our teachers, our administrators and our children so we get that sense of security that parents will need when they say goodbye to their child and send them off to school.”

Ms. Hochul said while children are less likely to suffer serious illness from COVID-19, they remain at-risk for spreading the virus. Children 12-17 are currently only eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends every child 12 or older receive the vaccine.

Part of the initiative includes new #VaxtoSchool pop-up COVID-19 vaccination sites that will open in areas where zip code data shows the vaccination rate for 12 to 17-year-olds is lower than the state average. The state has so far announced two locations, both in New York City, and more are expected to be announced.

A community-based medical professional will be available at each site to answer questions. The state will also launch a mobile vaccination effort with #VaxtoSchool buses that will be set up in “convenient, school-centric areas statewide, such as public recreational spaces like basketball courts and parks,” the governor’s announcement said.

“Through reaching New York families in new, creative, and engaging ways, we can help get the vaccine to more eligible adolescents, while keeping our schools open and healthy,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner. “The vaccine is safe and effective, and I urge New Yorkers 12 years of age and older to get vaccinated as they head #VaxtoSchool, so they can get back to the classroom experience they deserve while best protecting their health and the health of those around them.”

Last Thursday, Ms. Hochul formally announced the requirement for teachers and school employees to be undergo weekly COVID-19 testing unless they show proof of vaccination with either a CDC vaccine card or the Excelsior Pass.

The emergency regulation applies to all schools in New York. Schools on the North Fork opened last week for the new school year.

Schools must also have the capacity to provide diagnostic testing for any student, teacher or staff member who is symptomatic or has been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19. The governor said there are variety of options and “significant funding” to accomplish that and schools should work closely with their local health department.

School districts must continue to report data on positive cases to the NYS School COVID Report Card.

On Monday, the governor announced a designation of COVID-19 as an airborne disease under the recent state legislation that requires all employers to implement workplace safety plans to protect against airborne infectious disease.

The designation by Dr. Zucker states that COVID-19 presents a serious risk of harm to the public health under New York Health and Essential Rights Act, known as the HERO Act. Former governor Andrew Cuomo signed the HERO Act into law in May.

“While we continue to increase our vaccination numbers, the fight against the Delta variant is not over, and we have to do everything we can to protect our workers,” Ms. Hochul said in a statement. “This designation will ensure protections are in place to keep our workers safe and support our efforts to combat the virus and promote health and safety.”

Under the new law, employers can adopt a policy template or plan as provided by the state Department of Labor or establish an alternative plan that meets or exceeds the standard’s minimum requirements. 

The law is also supposed to protect employees from retaliation for making a complaint about an employer failing to comply with the law or adopted plan.

The plans adopted by employers must address safety measures such as employee health screenings, masking and social distancing requirements, workplace hygiene stations, workplace cleaning protocol, quarantine protocol and building airflow technology.