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In NYC, Proof Of Vaccination Becomes A Key To The City

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In New York City, if you want to go to a gym, restaurant or concert hall, you'll need to prove you've had at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine. That goes for customers and workers. New York is the first city to pass such a sweeping vaccine requirement. It starts to phase in this month and goes into full effect in mid-September. Here to talk about this decision is New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DAVE CHOKSHI: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: The city has described this as an effort to keep public spaces safe. At the same time, Mayor Bill de Blasio today framed the new policy this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL DE BLASIO: If you're vaccinated, all that's going to open up to you. You'll have the key. You can open the door. But if you're unvaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate in many things. That's the point we're trying to get across.

SHAPIRO: So how much of this decision is about making life difficult for unvaccinated people and pushing them to get the shot?

CHOKSHI: The core of this is about health and safety. But it's about a belief that, to bring New York City back, we have to get New York City vaxxed. And that means making sure that the spaces - you know, the settings that people are in are increasingly places where people can rely on others being vaccinated so that everyone is safer.

SHAPIRO: The city reports that about three-quarters of adults have had at least one shot, which is required to get into these places. We've heard from people who have not been vaccinated that in many cases, they're concerned they can't get time off work to recover from possible side effects or they don't have transportation to a vaccination site. Is the city combining this new requirement with outreach and incentives?

CHOKSHI: Absolutely, and this has been our commitment over the last several months of our vaccination campaign. We've been working on further lowering barriers to access, making sure that we're rolling out incentives. And only after we have taken those steps are we turning to these stricter requirements to push the vaccination levels even higher.

I'll give you a couple of examples with respect to what we've done to improve access. First of all, virtually everyone in New York City now lives just a few blocks away from a vaccination site, whether it's a city site or a pharmacy or a doctor's office. But we've also brought mobile options into people's neighborhoods. And our in-home vaccination program is available, where we will actually come to people's doorstep for anyone who is currently eligible for the vaccine. And last week, the mayor announced a hundred-dollar incentive for anyone who gets the shot. And we've already seen a good uptake based on that.

SHAPIRO: How is verification going to work at all these different businesses?

CHOKSHI: This is an important question. And, you know, some of this is - are parts of the program that we'll have to work out in collaboration with the different venues that are part of the requirement. But at the end of the day, our principle is simple. We want people to have multiple avenues but a common destination. And multiple avenues for verification could be the city app that we have. There's a state app called the Excelsior Pass. Or you can just bring in your paper CDC card. Any of those would be accepted. But the most important thing is that you're able to show proof of vaccination, and that's what keeps everyone safer.

SHAPIRO: You know, this pandemic has been so hard on businesses. What would you say to a small business owner, an independent restaurant owner, who says, look; I should be able to decide whether or not to require my customers to be vaccinated, and this new policy is going to hurt my business?

CHOKSHI: I do understand that. And there has been, you know, so much economic devastation along with, you know, the suffering to people's health that has been experienced over the last few months. But I would turn it on its head to say that this is actually the key to ensuring that - not just that people are protected but also that our economy comes back as well. We have seen how fundamental public health is to the economy, but we have to lead with these public health efforts. I also think about some of my own patients, you know, who are restaurant workers or, you know, ushers in a concert venue. And from the sake - from the perspective of their safety, this is also a very important step.

SHAPIRO: That's Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City's public health commissioner.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

CHOKSHI: Thank you again for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.