ALBANY — After writing legislation that would allow the state to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations if herd immunity isn't reached, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, said she was flooded with hateful and anti-Semitic messages.
"It's a little puzzling to have this kind of opposition after we have seen so many millions of people from around the world who have died from COVID," Rosenthal said, "There has been mass disinformation."
Those who claim vaccines pose high risks or don't work do so "without any evidence," she said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Assemblyman John Salka, R-Madison County, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit any requirement that New Yorkers get COVID inoculations.
"These are serious challenges to our constitutional rights," Salka said of proposed vaccine mandates. He said many of his constituents are "terrified" by the thought of being required to get the vaccine or be pressured to get vaccination passports.
The debate over vaccination policy has been heating up in the final weeks of the legislation session, just as public health officials report the public demand for the shots has slowed.
A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, D-Manhattan, would require health care professionals to report the vaccinations they administer to public health authorities as long as the person vaccinated consents. The bill advanced Thursday after being approved by the Health Committee, a panel headed by Gottfried.
Under federal law, immunization records are protected health information.
Meanwhile, New York still has far to go before reaching what scientists consider the herd immunity threshold. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, at least 70% of the population would need to be immune to COVID-19 to keep the rate of infection down without restrictions on activities.
The latest state data, updated Thursday, shows 51% of all New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccines, while 63% of the adult population is at least partially vaccinated.
To lure people to select state vaccination sites, the Cuomo administration is offering free scratch-off lottery tickets to people who get vaccinated from Monday through the following Friday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the "mega multiplier" tickets ordinarily cost $20 and give the holder a chance at a $5 million windfall.
Promoters of the vaccines have also been emphasizing that more activities can reopen with more people in attendance as the number of people who get immunized increases and COVID-19 positivity rates diminish.
While touting the lottery tickets in Buffalo, Cuomo also found himself defending his decision to land a $5.1 million deal for his book about his pandemic management.
Cuomo rebuked a press suggestion that he profited from the suffering of virus victims.
“I thought your question was stupid and offensive,” the governor said. He contended the book was needed because "if we don't learn the lessons, we're going to make the same mistakes."
In another incentive for getting vaccinated, state officials have been promoting the Excelsior Pass, which can be used as a proof of inoculation or a negative test result in order to gain entry to certain sports stadiums, concerts and business establishments.
The pass is stored on smartphones and can be used in the same way that electronic boarding passes work.
But some New Yorkers have run into snags when attempting to load the pass even though they have paper cards showing they have been vaccinated.
"New York is operating a 1980s technology infrastructure in 2021," said Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, president of the New York State County Executives Association. Problems with the pass arose because "the systems the state has created don't communicate well with each other."
The Cuomo administration said its data shows 96% of the people who try to download the pass do so successfully, with hundreds of thousands of individuals getting it each day.
The Excelsior Pass Wallet is available from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Then follow the instructions to retrieve a pass after being fully vaccinated or testing negative for COVID-19 in the Empire State. The pass is valid for 180 days.
Some Republicans are voicing strong objections to the pass.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, who has emerged as the early frontrunner to garner his party's support for his gubernatorial candidacy, said this week he believes "Andrew Cuomo is wrong to be pushing Vaccine Passports on New Yorkers."
"Privacy and freedom may not be anywhere on his priority list, but they are on mine," Zeldin said.
Cuomo spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said the use of the pass helps with the safe reopening of New York businesses in accordance with health guidelines.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org