North-JerseyNews.com

NJDOH’s Judith Persichilli Defends Roll Out of COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

State officials attempted to clarify issues surrounding the arrival and plans for the COVID-19 vaccine, coming under fire for a delay in getting the shots to residents and staff in long-term care facilities. 

“Due to the number of individuals involved, this will take some time, but the vaccinations will be rolled out in an orderly manner, with vaccinations taking place at sites where the residents reside,” said New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) Commissioner Judith Persichilli at a press briefing Dec. 21. “This proved to be a more complex task than first imagined.”

The commissioner gave a detailed overview of the vaccination program and the decisions NJDOH made to include as many vulnerable populations in congregate settings into the program as possible. Due to a missed federal deadline, New Jersey will start administering shots on Dec. 28 along with 36 other states.

Long-term Care Facilities

In October, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) partnered with CVS and Walgreens to create the federal pharmacy partnership program to provide vaccinations to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The agency later expanded the types of facilities admitted into the program to include those living in high-risk congregate settings. 

“Within the disability community there are strong advocates who have been unrelenting in letting the department know how critically important it is to get these residents and their loved ones vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Persichilli. “The advocates gave voice to the voiceless and opened our eyes to the thousands of individuals in New Jersey relying on the department to make this decision.”

“Massive Undertaking”

As a result, NJDOH is attempting to includes approximately 91,700 residents and 90,000 employees in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, 9,300 residents in state developmental facilities and group homes, 21,600 individuals living in HUD senior housing, 4,300 members of the staff and 1,250 residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities in five state developmental centers and the 7,600 individuals in 650 group homes.

“This was a massive undertaking,” remarked Persichilli.

According to the commissioner, besides the sheer numbers, many of these facilities did not have the information systems technology (IT) to support the requirements to get into the program. The task of uploading their information from all the facilities fell upon NJDOH. When the paperwork was finished a day too late to start vaccinations Dec. 21, the federal government denied the state a waiver to start vaccinations that week.

Week Delay

“This was the work that the department was engaged in, and it was a decision the department made to once again include as many vulnerable individuals as possible,” said Persichilli. “This resulted in our start date of Dec. 28.”

Complicating matters, the CDC strict rules regarding when the long-term care program can be started has been changing as they started planning as well as when the vaccines became available, according to the commissioner.

Pharmacies such handling the programs were originally required to have 50% of needed doses reserved for the program a week prior to the launch. But due to the recent reduction of Pfizer allocations, the CDC changed the requirements to 25%. 

Frontline Workers First

In the first week of Pfizer allocations, the state reserved 21,450 doses to build up the reserve for the long-term care facilities, while allocating 54,600 doses to protect frontline staff in hospitals. 

“That decision was made to protect staff that will be needed in the event of a second surge,” stated Persichilli. “For frontline workers in our acute care hospitals, especially in our emergency rooms and critical care units, the vaccine certainly offers a ray of hope during the dark days of this virus.”

The changing information about anticipated doses and shipments of both Pfizer and Moderna has been an obstacle for state officials to wrestle with. The previously expected second tranche of Pfizer doses was 86,775; that was reduced by 38% to 53,625. For the month of December, the expected total is now 183,300 doses, a 33% decrease of the orgicial forecast.

No Replacing Persichilli

For the total shipments from Pfizer and Moderna for the month, the expected amount is 392,800, a drop off of 20%. 

Gov. Phil Murphy, who has dismissed recent calls to replace Persichilli, stressed the state is going to have to deviate from its plans as circumstances dictate. 

“This is not going to be a straight line…it’s a little bit like we’ve been saying about the school year, it’s not a normal school year,” said Murphy. “It is one of the most ambitious federal government initiatives ever undertaken.”

2 comments

  1. NEW JERSEY COVID-19: SENIOR DEATHTRAP. Every state has been scrambling in the last week to move high-risk seniors to the front of the line for coronavirus vaccinations to comply with hastily revised CDC guidelines. Seniors over 65, and nearly all over 75, will begin getting vaccine next week in many states, including Florida.
    The evidence is irrefutable: 1-Seniors are more likely to get the virus. 2-When they are infected, they are more likely to die.
    But here in New Jersey, when Gov. Murphy was confronted with this no-brainer, life-and-death decision, he inexplicably chose death for high-risk seniors. He has left them behind hundreds of thousands of residents who are usually asymptomatic if they do contract the virus. New Jersey is now perhaps the most dangerous place in America for anyone over the age of 65, particularly those with high-risk factors.
    To my friends in Florida, gosh, I really, really wish I was there. I take this very personally. I am 78, asthmatic, with an underlying heart condition. But because I do not choose to live in a nursing home, I cannot get vaccinated in New Jersey. Gov. Murphy has chosen to treat our deaths as a nursing home problem instead of a high-risk seniors problem. I have everything else in common with nursing home residents, and a few added risks, like having to visit the grocery and drug store and travel to the doctor and shovel my car out of the snow. I even had a job until we were laid off. But because I choose not to live in a nursing home, I am omitted from Gov. Murphy’s priority list.
    New Jersey has the worst death rate in the nation. No other state is close. New Jersey has 206 deaths per 100,000 residents. New York is next with 187 deaths per 100,000. Rhode Island, which shares similar demographics with New Jersey, has 158 deaths per 100,000. Florida? 97. New Jersey is doing something very wrong, and perhaps Gov. Murphy should reconsider the life-and-death choices he has made.
    Gov. Murphy has been conducting non-stop interviews to brag about his coronavirus program without providing any real information. He talks about all the vaccination sites being created, but he has not revealed where, when and how high-risk seniors will get the vaccine when it becomes available to them in a month or two or three or death, whichever comes first. His stock answer is “soon, we’re working on that.” He used that phrase over and over in his “Ask The Governor” TV show on Dec. 23. Meanwhile, the program for vaccinations in New Jersey has been pathetically slow even for medical workers and nursing homes when compared to other states, although plenty of vaccine is available. The vaccination sites shown on TV are usually empty.
    I wish my friends who live elsewhere a very happy holiday season. And yes, I wish I was there.

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