NJ Ramps Up For 'Equitable' COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Russ Crespolini
·5 min read

NEW JERSEY - While there isn't a timeline yet for the development of a viable COVID-19 vaccine, the plan for the inevitable rollout of one is ready, and as Gov. Phil Murphy said in his Monday press briefing, the Garden State is prepared.

"We will be ready," Murphy said, noting that the planning for a vaccine distribution began back in March.

Murphy said officials are tackling the pandemic in the short term, but they are looking at the long term. Officials said that their plan will be submitted to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention will call for 81,000 vaccinations a day in New Jersey, five days a week, and has an "all-government" distribution approach.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the first phase of the vaccinations are expected to be limited to healthcare workers.

The plan, as it currently stands, has several strategic aims:

  • Vaccinate 70 percent of the adult population within 6 months

  • Provide equitable access to a vaccine

  • Achieve maximum community protection

  • Build public trust

This is a developing story. Patch will have more information as it comes in.

Murphy said that part of reaching that maximum community protection would be having 70 percent of the adult population immunized, but a big stumbling block to that goal is additional federal money - as much as $8.1 billion.

Murphy said Congress will have to step in and help.

"If we don't receive additional federal funds achieving a 70 percent vaccination rate will take many years if it even happens at all.," Murphy said.

Murphy said that no one knows what vaccine will be approved, but it is a matter of months, and not years away. Moderna said back in September it expects 20 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020. Each person is expected to require two doses of the vaccine. The Massachusetts-based company is looking at between 500 million to 1 billion doses in 2021.

Two other late-stage coronavirus vaccine trials run by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson resumed Friday after suspending over "serious illness" in a few volunteers.

AstraZeneca is resuming after a six-week pause after federal investigators concluded there was no evidence that the experimental vaccine had directly caused the neurological side effects reported in two participants. Johnson & Johnson had "temporarily paused" their COVID-19 vaccine trial earlier this month due to one of the 60,000 trial participants developing an unexplained illness.

Johnson & Johnson — which is in the final phase of its landmark trial and were expecting to know by December if their vaccine worked — said the vaccine was not the cause of the illness.

President Donald Trump mentioned the Moderna vaccine in vague terms during his debate with Joe Biden last week. Trump has previously said a vaccine could be ready as soon as November and widely distributed soon after. During the debate he referenced the military playing a part in the distribution.

Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine trial is the largest in the world: The company enrolled up to 60,000 volunteers across three continents to take their coronavirus vaccine. The study participants are 18 years old and older, "including significant representation from those that are over age 60," said Johnson & Johnson.

The trial includes those both with and without comorbidities (pre-existing conditions that can make coronavirus more deadly) and included participants in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and the United States.

In the U.S., their trial includes significant representation of Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian and Alaskan Native participants.

These voluntary participants are given a single vaccine dose of the vaccine compared to a placebo, and scientists study how well it does preventing COVID-19. Unlike other pharmaceutical companies working on a cure, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would require just one shot instead of two.

If all goes well with this final trial, Johnson & Johnson anticipates the first batches of its COVID-19 vaccine will be available for emergency use in the United States in early 2021.

Johnson & Johnson has long maintained they are developing the vaccine on a non-profit basis, even for the U.S. market, and announced last week they are partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to give up to 500 million doses of that vaccine to poorer countries around the world. Johnson & Johnson did not specify which countries would get it for free.

However, many health experts have been tempering expectations on what a vaccine might mean for everyday life.

"I don't think we're going back to normal any time soon, vaccine or no vaccine," Shira Doron, hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, told Commonwealth Magazine. "It's not going to be like everyone gets vaccinated on Monday, nobody has to wear masks Tuesday."

Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday extended New Jersey's public health emergency amid the coronavirus crisis for the seventh time as the state reported its highest daily case number in five months.

Murphy extended the coronavirus outbreak's public health emergency for another 30 days, saying that New Jersey is "not out of the woods" as it continues to deal with a sharp rise in cases and fatalities that have been reported over the past few weeks.

The declaration means the state will continue to have the authority to order new shutdowns and take similar extraordinary acts if the virus resurges, as it has done in other states.

"Keeping New Jerseyans safe is our highest priority, today and every day," he added. "We are again extending the public health emergency in order to do exactly that.”

For the full text of Executive Order No. 191, click here.

On Monday Murphy reported 1,223 new positive cases bringing the total to 229,684. There were seven new confirmed COVID-19 deaths bringing New Jersey's total to 14,503.

This post contains reporting by Tom Davis, Carly Baldwin and Mike Carraggi.

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This article originally appeared on the Mendham-Chester Patch