NJ Expands COVID-19 Vaccines As State Begins Move Into Next Phase

NEW JERSEY — Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Wednesday that New Jersey will now make the COVID vaccines available to police and firefighters, signaling that the program is moving on to the next phase of distribution.

Previously, New Jersey provided vaccines to health-care professionals and long-term-care employees, along with some long-term care residents. But the availability for police and firefighters signals a shift from Phase 1A to 1B of New Jersey's vaccination plan. See more detail on each phase below.

State officials, however, didn't fully move into Phase 1B, which includes frontline essential workers and other high-risk groups. The only 1B group members eligible so far will be police and fire employees.

"They’re the ones who have to deal with our knuckleheads, especially at our superspreader event," Murphy said.

Murphy made the announcement as New Jersey and other parts of the country have lagged in getting the vaccines to their populations.

The governor said police and firefighters need the vaccines because "these are folks who have been just as much been in harm's way as many of our health care workers and they have been often called on for emergency medical support."

State officials announced Monday that only about 100,000 of its 400,000 doses had been administered. As of Wednesday afternoon's news briefing, 137,829 people have been vaccinated in New Jersey.

But state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the state will allow for some overlap in administering vaccines to certain groups.

A lag in vaccine distribution carries the risk of doses expiring. Pfizer vaccines, for example, last up to 30 days in their thermal shippers and up to six months in ultra-low-temperature freezers.

State officials don't anticipate any of New Jersey's doses expiring.

"We’re encouraging people not to throw those doses away," said former state Epidemiologist Dr. Eddy Bresnitz. "If you can’t find anybody in that phase, grab anybody you can and use those doses."

The state has now released a list that shows – in order – when everybody in New Jersey can get the COVID-19 vaccine. But officials haven't listed specific dates.

Murphy and health officials said the plan will continually be updated in response to the changing circumstances of the pandemic.

New Jersey's COVID-19 vaccination program aims to:

  • Provide equitable access to all who live, work, and/or are educated in New Jersey

  • Achieve community protection, assuming vaccine effectiveness, availability and uptake

  • Build sustainable trust in COVID-19 and other vaccines

The state's goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of the adult population – or 4.7 million adults – within six months.

Murphy said New Jersey is also developing a vaccine portal that will keep track of the immunization program. The site is not fully developed, but it can be found here.

Registration for the vaccination has begun, and the current link (found here) from the state Department of Health has been available.

These counties (and Princeton) have started vaccination programs, announced immunization sites or both:

State officials announced their intentions to expand as ShopRite also identified 39 new sites for COVID-19 vaccinations. See the New Jersey list here. Read more: 100K In NJ Now Vaccinated For COVID As State Looks To Expand

Murphy expressed hope that the vaccine will finally bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic, but he said New Jersey enters 2021 on "war footing" since more than 4,000 people are contracting the virus every day. Daily reports of fatalities have also reached a seven-month high. Read more: COVID Bills Signed Into Law As NJ Death Toll Hits 7-Month High

Once vaccine availability expands, vaccination will advance more fully to "Phase 1B," then "Phase 1C," and then "Phase 2," according to the state Department of Health.

Currently, Phase 1B of vaccination will include frontline essential workers and other high-risk groups; Phase 1C will include other essential workers, adults 65-74, and persons aged 16-64 with medical conditions that increase the risk for severe COVID-19 (see full list below).

Following these phases, the general public – Phase 2 – will be eligible for vaccination.

Here is the prioritization order for receiving the vaccine:

Phase 1A: Healthcare personnel

  • Hospital

  • LTC workers

  • Veteran’s home workers

  • Home care workers

  • Ambulatory and urgent care

  • clinic workers

  • Dialysis center workers

  • Dental office workers

  • Morticians and funeral home workers

  • Pharmacy workers

  • Other non-hospital healthcare facilities workers

  • Public health workers (such as those as federally qualified health centers)

  • Group home workers

  • Other paid and unpaid licensed and unlicensed healthcare workers

  • EMS personnel

  • Other healthcare settings

Phase 1A: Long-term care residents

  • Long-term care facilities

  • Veterans’ homes

  • Correctional facilities, prisons, juvenile centers, county jail

  • IDD group homes

  • Mental health group homes

  • Psychiatric hospitals

  • Other long-term care settings

Phase 1B: First responders

  • Police

  • Firefighters

  • Other first responders

Phase 1B: Other essential workers

  • Food-service workers

  • Port Authority workers

  • New Jersey Transit workers

  • Teachers, staff, and childcare workers

  • Workers who support radio, print, internet and television news and media services

  • Other critical workers

  • Other essential workers

Phase 1C: People at high-risk of COVID-19 illness

  • People at all ages with comorbid and underlying conditions that put them at high risk of COVID-19 (such as, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, immuno-compromised, sickle cell disease)

  • People living or working in congregate or overcrowded settings – such as colleges and universities

  • People living or working in congregate or overcrowded settings – such as migrant workers

  • People living or working in congregate or overcrowded settings

  • Tribal populations

  • Other people at high risk of COVID-19 illness due to comorbidities, occupations, demographics, etc.

Phase 1C: Elderly

  • People over 65

Phase 2

  • General public

New Jersey also provided a timeline for the various groups and when they'll be vaccinated:

This article originally appeared on the Basking Ridge Patch