NYC Health Commissioner Explains 3 Phases of Vaccine Distribution in the City

Photos via NYC Mayor’s Office.

By A. Campbell

As the second wave of the pandemic grips the city, questions swirl about the vaccine promising to bring it to an end. Is it safe? Does it work? How will it be rolled out? When will I get it? Where?

NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, MD, answered those and other questions posed by community members at a virtual town hall meeting last week, organized by UWS City Council Member Mark Levine.

Highlights from the Q&A portion of the town hall are included below.  You can watch the entire event on Council Member Levine’s YouTube page.

Note: The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and concision.

Can you dispel some of the rumors and misinformation that have been circulating online about what the vaccine does and doesn’t do?

Dr. Chokshi: “Let me start with what the vaccine is not. It is not a live virus. You cannot get the virus from the vaccine. It is also not DNA and it doesn’t affect your DNA. The mRNA doesn’t enter into the nucleus of the cell and so it doesn’t alter a person’s genetic code.”

So how does the vaccine work?

Dr. C: “We should focus on the ‘m’ in mRNA. ‘M’ is for messenger, that means it’s a message. That message is one that encodes a protein called the spike protein of the virus. The cell takes that in. It actually develops that protein so the body can recognize it and build immunity to it, and then as soon as that happens, the mRNA is released. It’s disintegrated, so it’s no longer in your body and all that remains is the immunity you’ve built up to the virus and to the virus protein. So when you do encounter the virus, your body recognizes it and can mount an immune response to it.”

How should people with allergies understand what the vaccine might mean for them?

Dr. C: “The vast, vast majority of people who have allergies – whether it’s food allergies or allergies to dust and dust mites or seasonal allergies – none of those bear on whether you should or should not get the vaccine.  If you have those allergies, the vaccine will be safe and effective for you. The people who should have a conversation with their doctors about this are people who have had very severe allergies to a vaccine or to a medicine taken by injection in the past. In those cases, I do encourage you to discuss it with your doctor.”

Should organ transplant recipients and others who are immunosuppressed get the vaccine?

Dr. C: “I’m going to start by reiterating that for specific clinical circumstances, the best thing is to speak with a doctor who knows you and your condition best. What I will say more generally about people who may be immunosuppressed is that there are no contraindications to getting the vaccine simply because you are immunosuppressed – meaning the vaccine is likely to be safe and effective for you as well, but I do encourage you to have a conversation with your doctor to allay any concerns and to talk through the particulars of your situation.”

When will I receive the vaccine?

Dr. C: “The vaccine is going to roll out in three phases. Phase One is when we know there’s going to be limited supply of the vaccines and there will have to be these challenging decisions made about prioritization. Phase Two is when supply starts to catch up to the demand and when we’ll be able to expand out the groups that will be eligible for vaccination. And Phase Three is when we have supply that is sufficient to meet the overall demand and that’s when the general public will be eligible to be vaccinated.”

What is the estimated timeline for each of those phases?

Dr. C: “I don’t think we’ll get to Phase Three until potentially the middle of 2021, in terms of having sufficient supply for everyone. I think we’ll get to Phase Two, where supply is catching up to demand, perhaps in March and April, 2021. Until then, we’ll be in Phase One where we have to work through the prioritization groups because of the limited supply. I believe [Phase One] will last through February. We’ll work from where we are right now: high-risk healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, and expand it to first responders who are also in roles that put them at risk for infection and illness. Then, essential workers, particularly those who may not be able to physically distance, and then to people who are at risk because of age or underlying illness.”

Where will I be able to receive the vaccine?

Dr. C: “We want the vaccine to be administered in the places that all of you already trust getting your routine vaccines. If you’re used to getting that at your community health center, we want you to get it there. If you’re used to getting it from the hospital, we want you to get it there. If you’re used to getting it from a pharmacy, we want you to get it there. We’re going to partner with all of those places to try to expand access as much as possible. All of this will unfold in phases, but the goal is to get it to all of those access points.”

Will vaccinations be done by appointment and will residents receive communication about when they are eligible to receive them?

Dr. C: “We will rely on the relationships that you already have – whether it’s with your family doctor or your pharmacist – to help with that. Our goal and what we’ve been planning for is to ensure we have the best science-based information to equip those people with so they, in turn, can answer all of your questions. We already have a website up. It’s We update it regularly and you should bookmark it and check it frequently.

With respect to appointments, as the vaccine becomes more broadly available, appointments will be used frequently. Unfortunately, we remain in a public health emergency, in a time when we’re seeing a surge in cases. So, even as we administer a vaccine, we’ll have to make sure we’re masking up and and that people are flowing through the spaces where they’ll receive the vaccine in a safe and healthy way. I think appointment scheduling will help us with that.”

NEWS | 31 comments | permalink
    1. Vaccine Si ! says:

      THANK YOU, WEST SIDE RAG, and everyone else involved, for providing clear answers to these questions.
      Have already “bookmarked” this page for future reference.

    2. Chris says:

      I received my first shot Monday morning and will return for the second on the 8th of January. I did not know what to expect after listening to the news and the chatter on the internet.

      I have had zero pain in my arm and no side effects at all and I am a late 50’s male with autoimmune issues.

      So when you can get the shot and don’t believe all the doom and gloom.

    3. NoVax ForMe says:

      Yeah, still not getting the shot. Not happening. Not even if made into law. You’d have to put me under sedation & restraint to force that on me. Build up immunity like normal, like they did in 1918. Let your body strengthen itself.

      • Linda says:

        So you plan on continuing spreading the disease? How exactly did that work for polio? Thousands of years of death and crippling until the vaccine.For small pox? I’m proud of my small pox vaccination scar. Do you have one? If you don’t it’s because of those of us who did get one all those years ago.

        • Emma says:

          This vaccine protects the person that gets vaccinated from developing severe symptoms, it does not prevent spread. You clearly misunderstand the mechanism of action. You can still contract the virus and spread it. It is an individual choice. Stop bullying people about their choices when u don’t even understand how this drug works.

          • Fact Checker says:

            That’s not entirely true. The actual truth is just that we don’t 100% know for sure yet if it stops spread. Most vaccines do, and it’s very likely that this one will as well. But the studies only focused on illness prevention so we can’t say for absolute sure yet.

      • Sarah says:

        50 million people died from the 1918 influenza, including about 675,000 in the United States.

        Don’t think we aren’t noticing the people who are all “Well, I don’t think I’D die of it, and I really couldn’t care less if the people waiting on me in stores and delivering my food do.” 2021 is going to be a bad year for sociopaths.

      • 90th Street Jeff says:

        @novax: So if you are standing on a railroad track and the train is approaching you at high speed, you have to make a choice: either die, or get off the track. No one is making you do either one. I guess you’re the guy who is stubbornly going to stay on the track to the very end because everybody around you is urging you to get off the track.RIP, buddy boy!

    4. Joseph says:

      I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine 12/18 and am scheduled for my second dose 1/8. I have experienced absolutely NO side effects whatsoever and continue to feel great. The flu vaccine felt worse for me than the covid-19 vaccination. My co-workers and I spoke of how excited and promising it is that we finally have this tool to fight the virus. I’m encouraging all of my patients to get the vaccine when it becomes available to them.

    5. kdiaz says:

      My body, my choice.

      • EdNY says:

        Which means that when the majority of people have been vaccinated and can congregate in restaurants and stop wearing masks, you can either quarantine or take your chances on catching it, since the vaccine doen’t prevent people from spreading the virus.

      • Don't Be a Jerk says:

        Fair enough if the effect of your choice were limited to you. But we’re dealing with a contagion here, and your choice of declining to be vaccinated will imperil others.

      • City Kid says:

        Typhoid Mary tried to get away with that “my body, my choice” stuff, too. She was ultimately quarantined for life on North Brother Island, located in the East River. Sometimes stubborn people cannot be permitted to endanger the health and safety of others. “Don’t Tread on Me” does not apply in the face of a threat to public health.

    6. Mclawrence E Glynn says:

      How can I get the vaccine I am over 65 yrs and have medical problem and working

      • LivableCity says:

        Contact your doctor or your local clinic, wherever you go for health care! If The work you do is in the list below, you should be able to get a vaccine. If not, you will be in the next group, which should be in a month or so. From the CDC – the group of people after health care workers and long term care residents and staff include all those over age 75 and the following>

        “Frontline essential workers: first responders, education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers, and grocery store workers”

    7. UWS Craig says:

      Please explain why healthy 31 year old Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has already received the vaccine in “Phase One” but my homebound 102 year old grandmother will wait for months.

      • Phoebe says:

        Craig, I also wish I could figure that one out. But these days, little surprises me.

        • Brooklyn exile says:

          Excellent article. I imagine it was hoped that the sight of AOC getting her vaccine would encourage suspicious or fearful members of the Hispanic community to seek the vaccines when it becomes available to them. I imagine we’ll soon enough see LeBron James, Beyonce, and Jennifer Lopez, etc., getting their shots. I know from a brother in Israel that the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate there has instructed its followers to get the shot. Why they could not have done the same (here and in Israel) regarding masks, social distancing, and hand-washing remains a painful puzzle to me and always will. Ditto for LeBron, etc.

      • Marsha says:

        Why don’t you ask why Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham etc. got the vaccine? Neither wears a mask, she does. Also ask, since you’re asking, why Giuliani, Carson got special treatment with Regeneron, etc. while in hospital when he repeatedly calls it a “hoax,” never wears masks and in HIS words says he got it because he’s a “celebrity.” How many “celebrities” like him get it while we can’t? Thanks.

      • chris says:

        I think people leading the country will be vaccinated first.

        • Iris says:

          You are 100% correct and it was first announce that all of Congress, all of Trumps cabinets including the kids that are aids ( not the White House staff though who are most vulnerable. He’s had 25 holiday parties) the Supreme Court, State Department, military Heads and most of heads of government agencies. DC was got very little of the vaccine for health care and essential workers but his aids got it. Trump isn’t taking it as I read he is still receiving that immune suppressant treatment he got while in the hospital.

      • robert says:

        The senior members of both parties in and out of congress got their shots. As part of a long standing “continuity of government” plan that has been around since the 60’s.
        Various dept keep personal have also been vaccinated in things like Homeland, Health, etc
        While all of the members of congress are eligible under this program most have decided to wait, unlike AOC that ran to the front of the line at the first chance. How many frontline healthcare workers are in her district which would love to have the vaccine?

      • Vaccine-Ready says:

        The better question is why all of those Congressional Republicans who have said this was a hoax are getting the vaccine.

    8. Thomas Hallinan says:

      I don’t need AOC or any other politician jumping the line so they can “set a good example”. What a joke!!

    9. Carol says:

      First, I appreciate the feedback from those who have taken the vaccine.
      Next, did I miss the part about high-risk patients? My cardiologist and PCP (and pretty much all my other drs, but those are where I would receive the vaccine) place me in the high-risk population (multiple conditions going on), but I didn’t see any mention of patient populations other than nursing home/over 75. A few weeks ago, my cardiologist was telling me probably Jan. I’ll call them after the holiday, but in the meantime, just wondering what others are hearing.
      And please keep up the feedback – good, bad, or ugly, on the vaccine experience. For me, it’s a risk-benefit analysis that will be different for each individual, and all info is welcome/helpful. Thanks.

    10. robert says:

      Part I
      These city and state officials are the same ones that told us that Trumps warp speed program would never work and that we would not have a vaccine in human trails till late next year let alone being used in a nationwide vaccination campaign free of charge to all.
      There are approximately 350 million people in the country. Pfizer alone has 100 million doses, that number covers their two shots, already in the pipeline as well as having announced that they will have another 100 million by mid-April.

      • Terry says:

        Pfizer did not accept federal funding to help develop or manufacture the vaccine– It only is part of Operation Warp Speed as a supplier of a potential coronavirus vaccine. So Operation Warp Speed did not accelerate the development of the Pfizer vaccine as you imply.

        • Fact Checker says:

          Also worth noting that the current vaccination schedule is what the experts had always said was the best case scenario. Trump promised that we would have a vaccine long before now, and that was what they had (correctly) said was impossible.

    11. robert says:

      Part II
      The other two vaccines that have been approved and are being used as I type, Moderna and AstraZeneca will put out another 100 million. Johnson and Johnson will be approved any day now and are ready to ship their vaccine the day they get FDA approval. A total of 15 companies that have been working on getting approval, of which 3 already have. Each of these companies were part of the massive Trump operation warp speed funding to the tune of several billion, but that guaranteed that the United States citizens had first call on getting the vaccine.

    12. robert says:

      Part III
      I do antimicrobial polymer research and have followed this work in my lab closely. I will be getting my shot as soon as I’m able and would strongly recommend that you and your family do so as well. Pls reach out to your regular doctor to make sure you don’t have any conditions that might need additional monitoring when you get your vaccine.

    13. Big Earl says:

      I have such a hard time understanding why some people are so opposed to getting a simple shot. It’s a shot. Big deal. A chance for humanity to move forward. Polio? Small pox? Vaccines help the world progress. Did people whine like babies about getting a vaccine back in the day of polio and small pox? No. People did it and small pox and polio were eradicated.