NEW YORK — New Yorkers ages 12 to 17 who get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the coming weeks will be entered to win a four-year free ride to any public college or university as an incentive to inoculate the age group, officials announced Wednesday.
The state will give 10 full scholarships for up to four years of full-time undergraduate study or five years in an approved five-year bachelor’s degree program to a State University of New York or City University of New York campus each week for five weeks, or 50 total awards, to residents ages 12 to 17 who get their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
Health experts on the state’s Clinical Advisory Task Force recommended the Pfizer two-dose shot for 12- to 15-year-olds on May 12.
The full scholarships will cover all tuition, room and board, textbook, supplies and transportation expenses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
“None of us have been here before — there is no book to follow, so get creative,” the governor said during a COVID briefing in Manhattan. “It is an incentive for students. You’re 12 to 17. You’re planning on going to college. You are wondering about how you’re going to pay for it. ... It’s an incentive for parents. For parents, you’re worried about paying college tuition, tell your 12- to 17-year-old, go out, get a shot, it protects the family, and they are then eligible for a raffle.
“It’s going to be among a small population,” the governor added, “so your odds are good because it’s only the population that has been vaccinated.”
Teens must enter the random drawing online at forms.ny.gov/s3/Get-Notified-When-Lottery-Registration-Begins starting Thursday, when the Get A Shot To Make Your Future program opens.
“COVID-19 has challenged our students time and time again, and they have done everything we asked of them over the past year to keep our campuses open and safe,” SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said in a prepared statement. “With vaccinations as the key to a more normal academic and campus experience, this scholarship incentive can help ensure our entire campus communities have a safe and full college experience this fall semester.”
New Yorkers ages 12 to 17 represent about 5% of the state’s coronavirus tests, but 10% of new infections, Cuomo said, highlighting the need to prioritize the age group.
About 55.5% of New Yorkers over the age of 18 have been vaccinated against COVID to date, with 64.2% of state adults receiving at least one dose, Cuomo said.
State coronavirus vaccinations have recently declined 47%.
“This is an issue,” Cuomo said, adding of teenagers’ 10% positivity rate, “That’s the highest differential of any age group, meaning there are more, in fact, 12- to 17-year-olds, when we actually run the tests. Also, that group, 12 to 17, is the lowest percent vaccinated by far in the state.”
Teenagers recently became eligible to get the life-saving injection, and are not among the populations at highest risk to contract or die from COVID-19.
“So, it’s understandable,” Cuomo said of the disparity. “It’s not like the 12- to 17-year-olds are delinquent. It’s that they’ve not been eligible, and they’ve not been stressed as a priority when it comes to COVID. But they are now, especially with reopening schools, et cetera.”
The free scholarship incentive is one of several active state programs to encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus — including free two-day passes to a state park, free tickets to a Yankees or Mets baseball game or $5 million lottery ticket — as the inoculation rate declines.
Officials have not measured if the recent incentives are working, or increasing state vaccination rates, state Budget Director Robert Mujica said Wednesday.
Young New Yorkers who get vaccinated this week can be entered into the pool. Drawings will take place each Wednesday, but names will remain in the pool for the duration of the program as a chance to win.
“Every week, the full pool is eligible,” Cuomo explained. “The sooner you jump into the pool, the greater your chances because you are in the pool for more raffles. ... The first one in the pool has a better chance.”
The state Department of Health and Higher Education Services Corporation will verify the vaccination status of winners.
“HESC is proud to be a part of Gov. Cuomo’s (state) vaccine incentive to encourage New York’s youth to get vaccinated and help drive down the overall number of positive COVID cases in New York state,” New York State Higher Education Services Corporation President Guillermo Linares said in a statement Wednesday. “While we have seen a significant rise in the number of New Yorkers who are fully vaccinated, it is critical we continue to vaccinate as many people, as quickly as possible, to help prevent the spread. With the chance to receive a free, full-ride to any CUNY or SUNY, two or four year college, there is no better time than now to ensure our young people are vaccinated to protect themselves and all New Yorkers.”
The state’s COVID-19 positivity rate dipped to 0.70% on Wednesday, and 0.85% over a seven-day average — the lowest since Sept. 2, continuing 51 straight days of decline.
Statewide hospitalizations decreased to 1,274 patients Wednesday, or 83 fewer people.
Seventeen New Yorkers died from coronavirus complications Tuesday.