NEW YORK — The state launched a new digital marketing campaign Wednesday to maximize the number of 12- to 17-year-olds vaccinated against COVID-19 as officials fight to ward off new variants of the fatal upper respiratory illness.
The state’s -VaxtoSchool campaign will include mobile, targeted pop-up COVID vaccination sites in communities with the lowest vaccine rates of the age group by ZIP code, a state-operated Instagram channel @VaccinateNY to educate students about the COVID-19 vaccine, -VaxtoSchool design contests and a new school vaccine resource website for parents and caregivers at ny.gov/vaxtoschool.
“We still have some lagging numbers between the ages of 12 and 17,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday during the second COVID briefing of her governorship and as schools across the state began their first days of a new school year.
She conducted the pandemic update in her Manhattan office.
About 81% of New York adults have received at least one vaccine dose, with at least 73% completing their COVID vaccine series as of Wednesday, but 61% of New York teenagers have at least one COVID vaccine dose, and 50% who completed the shot series — a rate that does not satisfy Hochul.
“It’s not bad, but it’s not great,” the governor said. “We are worried about the children who need to be vaccinated in that age group right now. ...In the meantime, we have to get them back and give parents the confidence that their precious child is going to be safe when they leave their home and go off.”
About 90% of New Yorkers ages 65 and older have completed their COVID vaccine series, 87% of people ages 50-64, 80% of New Yorkers 40-49, 76% of people aged 30-39 and nearly 70% of young adults ages 18-29, Hochul said.
State officials and local governments will work together to hold -VaxtoSchool events or pop-up sites to increase the percentage of New York youth vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
The locations of pop-up vaccine sites for New York youth were not announced Wednesday.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo also encouraged school districts to operate as vaccination sites for eligible students.
Immediately after taking office Aug. 24, Hochul implemented a universal school mask requirement, vaccine or weekly testing requirements for all teachers and staff and state Health Department-mandated social-distancing and quarantine protocols for each district to minimize coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths as officials prioritize in-person classroom instruction.
“I’ve heard this from school superintendents who say, ‘Don’t leave all of this to us, we are educators,’” Hochul said of her ongoing conversations with school administrators across the state. “‘We’re not health care professionals. Tell us what needs to be done based on your knowledge of the science, the data and the facts.’”
The state previously ran a public advertising campaign targeted to vaccinating young New Yorkers this past spring after health experts on the state’s Clinical Advisory Task Force recommended Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose shot for 12- to 15-year-olds May 12. The shot was initially approved for residents ages 16 and older.
“We’re going to be announcing the pop-up sites very shortly,” Hochul said.
Breakthrough COVID infections occur in about 0.5% of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 0.04% of fully vaccinated people hospitalized with the illness, Hochul said.
Officials continue to monitor the spread of the more contagious COVID-19 delta variant, which continues to drive up virus infection rates across the state, nation and globe.
Health experts are also watching the newly discovered Mu variant that originated in Ecuador and Colombia. The new mutation has been found in fewer than 0.5% of New York cases to date, Hochul said.
Federal health officials have stressed the new variant is not an immediate threat.
The state’s seven-day average COVID infection rate continues to tick up, with 3.34% positivity Wednesday, up from about 3.28% Monday and Tuesday.
The North Country has the state’s highest rate of average new coronavirus infections at 5.64% Wednesday, only second to the Mohawk Valley at 5.45%.
The Capital Region and Finger Lakes regions are not far behind at about 4.62% as of Wednesday.
Western New York’s infection rate continues to increase to 4.48%.
New York City, the global epicenter of the initial virus outbreak in March 2020, holds steady at 2.33%, according to the governor’s office.
“The numbers are starting to creep up again,” Hochul said before warning about increasing COVID hospitalizations across the state and nation.
Hospitalizations increased 59 patients to a total of 2,415 COVID patients statewide Wednesday, compared to 445 COVID hospitalizations on the same date last year.
The Mohawk Valley and Finger Lakes each have some of the lowest available regional hospital capacity. The Finger Lakes region has 21% of its hospital beds available and 31% of Intensive Care Unit beds compared to 35% bed capacity and 11% availability for intensive care patients in the Mohawk Valley, according to Hochul.
The Capital Region has similar capacity at 35% vacant hospital beds and 21% free in intensive care.
The North Country boasts 49% available hospital beds and 31% of the region’s space in intensive care.
The Southern Tier has the most routine hospital beds and Intensive Care Unit beds available to date at 52% and 40%, respectively.
“We want to make sure people are aware of these numbers,” Hochul said. “The biggest challenge for our hospitals is not the PPE, it’s not the beds — just like last year, it’s staffing. Staffing is what we need and we have to do everything we can to encourage people.”
The governor compared the heightened interest in health care training and the industry to the droves of Americans inspired to enlist in the military or emergency services and police after 9/11.
Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.
Hospitals in other states with more dire virus infections have been forced to deny life-saving medical treatments to non-COVID patients to save beds and resources for virus care.
Thirty-one New Yorkers died from coronavirus complications Tuesday — amassing to 55,805 state fatalities since March 2020.