As a vaccine for COVID-19 in the U.S. comes closer to a reality, New Jersey officials in the last 10 days have offered insight on how and when the vaccine will be distributed throughout the Garden State.
“The light on the other side of this pandemic is real, it is now becoming visible and this is a game changer,” Gov. Phil Murphy stated. “To be clear, the mere presence of a vaccine in our state does not mean that we can flip a light switch and remove all restrictions or lift every advisory. But an end can now be considered a when and not an if, and we can count it in months.”
Murphy warned the coronavirus will not simply vanish because vaccine doses are available, but more analogous to a light dimmer.
500,000 Vials in December
“The light will get brighter and brighter and brighter over time. To get to full brightness will take, as I say, months and it will take millions of New Jerseyans getting vaccinated between now….and April/May,” said Murphy. “This is not forever and always.”
Murphy estimates the state could have up to 500,000 vials of the vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Moderna by the end of the calendar year. The allocation in the first wave will be split between healthcare workers and long-term care facilities. New Jersey’s Professional Advisory Committee will prioritize essential workers in Phase 1B. The roll out to the general public will depend on the overall availability of the vaccine.
Reportedly, with Pfizer’s two-jab vaccine requiring it to be stored in sub-zero storage, six hospitals in the state—including North Jersey’s Hackensack University Medical Center and Morristown Medical Center—are slated to receive the vaccines first.
New Jersey Timeline
Moderna’s availability will be more widespread as it will be refrigerated, allowing local pharmacies and stores such as Walgreens and CVS to store the vaccine on site. After the first dose, a second dose will be administered either 21 or 28 days apart.
“This is going to get much broader within only a matter of weeks, many more hospital systems, pharmacy chains,” said Murphy. “My guess is January, you’re looking at large perhaps regional sites for distribution that are up. This is going to ramp up pretty dramatically.”
Once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives emergency use authorization, shipping to New Jersey would start the next day. Murphy noted several New Jersey hospitals are pre-positioning to receive the first shipments of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine with the first distribution to include a total of 76,000 doses with shipments every week thereafter.
“This pre-positioning is important to ensure first that delivery and storage systems work, and second to assist the federal government in expediting shipments and delivery,” said Murphy. “We will be situated to begin providing vaccinations once the vaccine receives emergency use authorization from the FDA.”
In order to maximize efficacy and efficiency in the state, Murphy recently signed an executive order to change the inclusion into the New Jersey Immunization Information System from an opt-in to an opt-out program for any resident who chooses to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The governor said this was being done to make sure the two-dose regimen is properly tracked and managed.
“We’re doing this for a simple reason: to ensure that those who choose to receive a vaccine get the most effective course in the most streamlined manner possible, on the proper timetable and without logistical or bureaucratic hurdles in the way,” said Murphy. “This is most critically important for our healthcare workers, emergency responders, and essential workers who need the additional protection of an effective vaccine as they continue to confront this virus on the front lines and to be sure we are ready for this moment.”
Working with Trump Administration
The state has been working on plans for vaccine distribution since last March and the state’s initial distribution plan was filed with the federal government in early October. The governor has praised the efforts of officials in the Trump administration in forming a vaccination plan, including Vice President Mike Pence and Army General Gus Perna who is in charge of the distribution aspects, due to its “enormous complexity….There’s still a lot of execution before us. We’re going to figure this out.”
But even with all the positive news, state officials are concerned about the high rates of New Jerseyans wary of taking the vaccine despite both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showcasing effectiveness percentages in the 90% range during the first tests. The latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found about 40% of New Jerseyans will “probably” or “definitely” not get vaccinated against COVID-19 despite surging caseloads across the nation. Among those who were reluctant to get vaccinated, 80% were worried about side effects; meanwhile, 82% said they needed more information about how the vaccine would work.
To combat those worries, the New Jersey Department of Health plans a public service announcement program. Additionally, Murphy and Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli have both publicly said they would get the vaccine and plans are being made to launch a public information campaign.
“Basically everything that we’ve seen so far, I have no reason to doubt that these vaccines won’t be safe and effective” said the state’s Communicable Disease Service Director Dr. Ed Lifshitz. “I very much trust those career scientists at the FDA that they’re looking at the same things that I’d be looking at and if they say that it’s safe to go ahead…I fully expect that I would agree.”