New York City expands COVID-19 booster shot access to all adults

New York City will allow everyone over the age of 18 to receive a COVID-19 booster shot if they want one, the city's top doctor said Monday, adding that providers should not turn anyone away.

Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said coronavirus case numbers have been increasing, though high levels of vaccination have kept hospitalizations and deaths to a minimum.

Chokshi said he wanted to ensure there are no barriers to access for the people who think they are at risk enough to warrant the additional protection from a booster dose. More than 630,000 New Yorkers have already received a booster, he said, but even more can benefit ahead of winter and the holidays.

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"I know that booster doses can provide one more layer of reassurance, allowing us to breathe a bit easier for ourselves or for our loved ones, particularly as we gather and travel around the holidays," Chokshi said. "So let's use every means at our disposal to make this a safe and healthy winter season."

Current federal guidance for boosters is very broad — the people who should get a booster are those over age 65 and anyone at high risk of "serious complications" from COVID-19 infection because of work, where they live or an underlying medical condition.

Vaccine providers are not supposed to ask questions or turn anyone away, relying on self-attestation for eligibility. And in practice, "serious complications" has become "any risk of exposure." 

Still, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped short of recommending boosters for everyone, meaning New York City is at odds with federal guidance.

Chokshi said he doesn't see it that way. During a press conference Monday, he said the city's recommendations are consistent with federal guidance.

"What we're trying to clarify today is that there should be no barriers to accessing a booster shot," Chokshi said. "The bottom line is, we don't want anyone turned away from a booster dose, and we want to prioritize those who will most benefit." 

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Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioSarah Palin dined inside NYC restaurant on Saturday despite not being vaccinated Hochul raises .6 million since launching gubernatorial campaign De Blasio says he won't run for New York governor MORE (D) said the city would “take the broadest interpretation, most inclusive interpretation of who qualifies to ensure that people who want it get it and are not turned away.”

But some infectious disease experts have questioned the benefit of giving boosters to everyone, rather than prioritizing the most vulnerable. While acknowledging that current recommendations can be confusing, they argue the solution should be more targeted, rather than overly broad.  

COVID-19 infections have been rising in many areas of the country, but particularly in colder climates and states that haven't yet experienced the worst of the delta variant. 

Hospitals are filling up, but almost all COVID-19 hospitalizations are among people who haven't been vaccinated. Experts and officials agree the best way to end the pandemic is to ensure unvaccinated people get their first and second shot.