As part of a broader effort to boost vaccination rates, the City is offering parent associations and parent-teacher associations cash for referring people to city-run vaccination sites.
In June, the City launched its vaccine referral program where officials encouraged civic, faith and tenant groups to perform vaccine outreach in return for $100 for every person they were able to convince to get the shot at a city-run site. The initiative has since been expanded to include nonprofits and residents; on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the City would pay unvaccinated New Yorkers $100 on a pre-paid debit card for getting their first shot of the vaccine.
Shortly after the July 28 announcement, dozens of executive members of PAs and PTAs across the five boroughs received an unexpected email and simultaneous robocall to their cellphones from the DOE stating the cash incentive applied to their organizations as well.
For every person who gets their first COVID-19 vaccine at a city-run site, the referring PA or PTA will get $100 with the potential to earning up to $20,000, according to a copy of the email and audio recording of the call shared with amNewYork Metro. It is unclear how parent organizations with receive payment and the New York City vaccine referral bonus organization application form only states “payment will be made to organizations once the program concludes.”
At first, some thought the email and phone call were fake, a few PTA members told amNewYork Metro.
The email initially included a link to a DOE website outlining the PA and PTA vaccination campaign which was then taken down about five hours after the email was sent out, prompting some members to believe it was sent prematurely.
A source close to the situation told amNewYork Metro that a few DOE higher-ups did not know that the site had been launched that day.
“Vaccinations are our passport out of this pandemic, and we are getting the word out every way we can about the importance of getting eligible people and students vaccinated,” DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer said. “We are alerting PA/PTA groups that they qualify under the City’s optional referral bonus program, and they can participate to receive $100 for every vaccinated person who names their PTA as the referring organization.”
The push to increase vaccinations comes as officials work to control a spike in new COVID cases mostly coming from the Delta variant.
On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio reported 1,032 new confirmed probable cases of the virus across the five boroughs based on a seven-day rolling average and a citywide COVID-19 positivity rate of 2.67% based on a seven-day rolling average.
A month ago, the city health department reported 216 new confirmed and probable cases based on the same rolling average.
De Blasio has repeatedly stressed the importance of vaccinations in the city’s fight against COVID-19 and the coronavirus variants. Earlier this week, the mayor ordered all municipal workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID testing as another means to increase vaccinations rates.
So far, about 60% of all adult New Yorkers have received one shot of the vaccine while 226,400—or about 44%—of the city’s vaccine eligible children have gotten at least their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, the only COVID inoculation approved for emergency use for kids.
Some of the over half a dozen PTA members who spoke with amNewYork Metro were pleased to hear the department was taking further steps to increase the city’s vaccination rate citing concerns that if it remained too low it would prevent schools from fully reopening this fall.
De Blasio recently promised a “blitz” on vaccination efforts in the city which started off with the city health department setting up pop-up vaccination sites outside of 25 Summer Rising locations each only equipped with 50 doses of the Pfizer inoculation.
Others were not so happy.
“Everyone was uncomfortable with it,” said Adriana Aviles, co-president of the PTA at P.S. 46 in Bayside, Queens. After getting the robocall and email, Aviles reached out to her fellow PTA executive board members and discovered at least three had also gotten the DOE flyer and message.
Some members, who are hesitant about getting the vaccine, feel the move unfairly applies pressure on families to get the shot even if they do not feel ready to do so because of underlying health conditions, worries about its side effects or distrust in the institutions that made and approved them. While others thought the move politicized an organization.
“One mom in my [PTA] Facebook group said ‘it just doesn’t feel right,'” Aviles added.