COVID-19 booster shots could be rolling out in a matter of weeks in New York, and their distribution will likely focus on pharmacies, clinics and health care networks.
A Centers for Disease Control panel on Thursday voted to approve the booster shots for the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 as the fall and winter seasons approach, and with them a potential spike in cases.
State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett on Thursday said the state is preparing to distribute COVID-19 booster shots as federal officials finalize approval. Unlike the initial release of the vaccine, the boosters won't be administered at massive sites.
"We already have orders placed," she said. "We don't expect the state will administer these through mass vaccination sites."
Instead, New York plans to rely on a network of health care providers, clinics and pharmacies to distribute the vaccine.
"We have a very robust network of pharmacies and clinics and private practitioners and there will be any number of places for people to go to get vaccinated," Bassett said.
The comparatively low-key approach to booster distribution comes as New York is set to relax a range of COVID-19 guidelines in keeping with federal recommendations. Samantha Penta, an assistant professor at UAlbany's Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said risk perception around the pandemic has shifted for many people.
"What's changing is how people are thinking about it -- how they feel about it -- whether that's your everyday person going about their lives to the people working in government agencies," Penta said.
COVID-19 still remains a risk, however, and state officials have said they will continue to closely monitor hospitalizations and case rates. One test will be for schools as students and teachers return to classrooms with relaxed guidance in place meant to keep kids from returning to remote learning.
"COVID-19 is still here," she said. "It continues to be contagious to spread from person to person. It's still causing severe health consequences, it's still causing death for some folks."