By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
ALBANY — Students ages 5 to 11 who get the COVID-19 vaccine have the chance to win a free college education.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Nov. 9 announced the “Vaccinate, Educate, Graduate” vaccine incentive to encourage families to vaccinate their children against the virus. Children who receive their first dose of the vaccine by Dec. 19 are entered into a random drawing to win a full scholarship to a State University of New York or City University of New York institution.
Scholarships apply to both two- and four-year colleges, and cover tuition, room and board.
There will be 10 winners statewide each week beginning Nov. 24. The final 10 winners will be announced Dec. 22.
“Finally, the COVID-19 vaccine is here for young New Yorkers age 5 through 11,” Hochul said. “Our critical work to make the vaccine accessible and available to all eligible children and their families is underway — and we will creatively support and celebrate those who get vaccinated. The ‘Vaccinate, Educate, Graduate’ program is an extraordinary opportunity for children to win free tuition to a SUNY or CUNY college or university, and I urge parents and guardians to help their children get vaccinated and enter into this once-in-a-lifetime program.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Nov. 2 that children ages 5-11 be vaccinated against the virus with the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine. The CDC’s recommendation made about 28 million children eligible for the vaccine, according to the agency.
“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement Nov. 2. “We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine. As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”
Winners of the SUNY or CUNY scholarships will receive full in-state tuition and non-tuition costs including room and board, books, supplies and transportation. If on-campus housing is not available at the school the student attends, they will receive the same allowance as students living on campus.
Meanwhile, the goal of the “Vaccinate, Educate, Graduate” program is to incentivize families to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19 now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children ages 5-11.
“Expanding vaccine eligibility to children as young as 5 years old gives us even greater confidence that we will effectively subdue COVID-19 and put the conditions in place for New York’s full economic recovery,” CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez said in a statement. “The ‘Vaccinate, Educate, Graduate’ program will further incentivize parents and guardians to get their children protected, and we strongly encourage them to do so.”
The option to vaccinate younger children is another step toward normalcy, particularly in the classroom, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said.
“Vaccinations were the key to a more normal academic and campus experience throughout SUNY,” Malatras said. “Now that even younger individuals have an approved vaccine option, this is another huge step to seeing the finish line of this pandemic, and we must continue to do all we can to encourage everyone to get their shot.”
Incentives have been used throughout the pandemic to encourage vaccinations among other age groups statewide, including free tickets to attractions and sporting events, and even pre-paid debit cards.
To be eligible to be entered into the scholarship drawing, children must be between the ages of 5 and 11, be residents of New York state and lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens, according to the governor’s website.
Federal COVID-19 relief and outreach funds are being used to cover the cost of the vaccination incentive program, according to the governor’s website.
New Yorkers looking to schedule a vaccine appointment for their child should call their child’s pediatrician, family physician, county health department, pharmacy or other health care facility. You can also visit vaccines.gov or call 1-800-232-0233 for more information.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, visit ny.gov/vaxforkids.