Health Care

What to know about preexisting conditions and vaccines

New York has opened up eligibility to another group of people.

New Yorkers getting vaccinated at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

New Yorkers getting vaccinated at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

It seems like every day, a new group of New Yorkers becomes eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, even as appointments remain hard to book as demand far outpaces supply. Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s warnings about opening vaccine eligibility up to more people –“It’s a cheap, insincere discussion,” he chastised when asked about expanding the pool to restaurant workers – he has continued to do it. When the federal government said it was sending slightly more doses to New York, Cuomo said restaurant workers and taxi drivers could get the jab (just a day after making the previous comment). 

The most recent group of people to become eligible are those 16 and older with certain underlying conditions and comorbidities. This time, the governor said the state will reallocate vaccines that hospitals did not use on staff and make those available to this new pool of people. All told, the new addition will make about 10 million New York residents eligible for the vaccine – two-thirds of the state’s total age-appropriate population (neither vaccine is approved for children and teens under 16). If you fall into this new category, here’s what you need to know about how to get inoculated.

What conditions make you eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

The list is fairly expansive, but subject to change, so if you have a condition that is not currently listed, keep an eye out for new inclusions. Currently, it includes:

Cancer (current or in remission) 

Chronic kidney disease

Pulmonary disease, like COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or cystic fibrosis (this does not include smokers who have not developed a lung disease)

Intellectual and developmental disorders

Heart conditions, like high blood pressure, heart failure or cardiomyopathies

Immunocompromised state, including those on immune-weakening medications

Obesity or severe obesity 

Sickle cell anemia or thalassemia

Type 1 or 2 diabetes

Cerebrovascular disease

Neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s 

Liver disease

When will doses become available?

People with underlying conditions can start getting shots on Feb. 15, with appointments on the state-run site opening up on Feb. 14. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said that slots should become available just after midnight, but warned that the state scheduling website may get overwhelmed by the flood of new people seeking vaccine appointments. “There will be a crush,” DeRosa said. “This will not be perfect.” DeRosa said that those seeking to make appointments can also go through their local health departments, to which the hospital vaccines were reallocated.

Where can I get the vaccine?

Starting on Feb. 15, you can get the shot at any state-run site. Those include the Javits Center in Manhattan, Jones Beach on Long Island and SUNY Albany. However, Cuomo left it up to the counties and New York City to determine how and when to open up availability at their locally run sites, so that answer may vary. For example, when Cuomo gave similar flexibility to counties when it came to opening up vaccine eligibility to restaurant workers and taxi drivers, several counties chose not to make those available due to supply limitations. At the very least, no locality can open up scheduling earlier than Feb. 14, because local health departments won’t know before then just how many vaccines they’ll get. In New York City, officials said sites run by the city will begin making appointments available on Feb. 15, the same as for the state. It remains unclear if private hospitals and hospital-run sites will offer the vaccine to people with preexisting conditions, or if that’s another decision that local officials will make, although the governor seemed to indicate they would fall under the purview of local officials.

Do I need to prove that I have one of those conditions?

Some sort of verification is needed, although like the decision about when to make doses available at locally-run vaccine sites, local officials will make the final decision about what verification is required. For state-run sites, you must provide a doctor’s note, some form of medical documentation or a signed certificate attesting that you have a qualifying condition. Whether the certificate is something that is printed at home and brought with you, or something that is provided at the vaccination site, remains unknown. Localities can choose any or all of those verification methods, which the state will then audit. Right now, New York City will permit any of the options available when it opens up vaccine appointments next week to ensure they have options.