New Jersey health officials say they are prepared for the expansion of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots approved by federal authorities even though New Jerseyans already eligible have been slow to get another dose.
Garden State residents not rushed out to receive their Pfizer booster shot. Murphy Administration officials stated that only a fifth of these eligible have received the additional shot as of this week, about a month into offering the additional dose, despite the upgrade in protection.
“While we’ve been seeing increasing numbers among those eligible for their booster shot from Pfizer, right now only about 20% who are in the queue have stepped forward,” said Gov. Phil Murphy this week. “I think on the boosters, what I’ve read…it’s not just like 20% more (protection), but it’s 3x, 5x, 10x more protection.”
Moderna, J&J Approval
This slow response comes as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized booster shots on Oct. 20 for recipients of Moderna’s two-dose coronavirus vaccine and Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot, significantly expanding efforts to bolster protection for vulnerable Americans. Additionally, the agency authorized medical providers to give people a booster shot of a different Covid-19 vaccine, a strategy known as “mix and match.”
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The FDA is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether the Pfizer vaccine should be authorized for children 5 to 11. The agency’s independent vaccine advisory committee is set to consider the matter on Oct. 26 and make a recommendation. Regulators may also decide as early as November whether to allow even more people to obtain booster shots, including younger adult recipients of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines who are not yet eligible.
But more than 1.1 million New Jersey residents who received their primary Pfizer series through the end of March are already eligible to receive their booster dose. Those eligible include residents 65 years and older; those with underlying medical conditions at high risk for severe COVID; or individuals who work in a job that places them at higher risk, including healthcare workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, education staffers, first responders, transit workers; food and agricultural workers, and postal service workers.
The state has launched a public service campaign in recognition that not all of those who are know they are eligible for a booster. The campaign includes advertisements on billboards, trains, buses, and transit platforms outlining eligibility.
Online, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said to help clarify the timing of when individuals are eligible for a Pfizer booster, the department has added a popup message to its homepage that provides the date of when you would have had to receive your second Pfizer dose in order to be eligible.
Murphy asserted there are a number of reasons for the demand not being higher, including mixed messaging resulting from disagreements among federal officials between different branches of the government as well as false sense of security by some. But the message officials are promoting is that boosters are needed.
“Boosters would not have been approved if (federal officials) in the science and medical communities did not conclude that they added meaningful extra protection,” said the governor. “The answer has got to be we’re less well off with fewer eligible people being boosted than we are if they are boosted.”
Department of Health Medical Advisor Dr. Ed Lifshitz noted booster shots are needed for it is still unknown how long immunity lasts after receiving the initial doses.
Efficacy of Vaccines
“We do not yet know how often we need to be boosted, whether this’ll be a one-time thing, whether it’ll become a yearly thing,” he said. “These are all things that we’re all listening and learning about in real time as this goes along.”
But Lifshitz stressed that COVID-19 vaccines that have been used so far have been extremely successful.
“Clearly the vaccines are working very well, and they’re very protective, particularly against those most serious parts, which are hospitalizations and deaths,” he said. “The CDC just published (a report) that said that 97% of all adolescents who were hospitalized for COVID had not been vaccinated, 97%. Even in that young group, which doesn’t often get very ill, that’s just more proof of how well these vaccines are working.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 12,150,769 in-state, plus an additional 462,045 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 12,612,814 as of Oct. 21. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,797,525 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 198,898 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 5,996,423.
State officials reported 295,662 boosters and third shots of Pfizer and 62,849 third shots of Moderna.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,358,217 doses (643,510 fully vaccinated), Essex 1,048,622 doses (501,169), Hudson 943,574 doses (453,174), Morris 736,080 doses (347,145), Passaic 652,360 doses (312,553), Sussex 172,264 doses (83,693), and Warren 112,591 doses (54,362).
As of Oct. 21, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,031,246 with 1,511 total new PCR cases. There were 327 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 154,617. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,185,863.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 23 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 24,995. The state listed probable deaths at 2,810, bringing the overall total to 27,805. State officials noted 15 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Oct. 21, Bergen had a total of 121 new confirmed cases and 23 new probable cases, Essex 61 new cases and 15 new probable case, Hudson 91 new cases and six new probable cases, Morris 59 new confirmed cases and 23 new probable cases, Passaic 81 new cases and 13 new probable cases, Sussex 39 new cases and nine new probable cases, and Warren 26 new cases and four new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,833, followed by Bergen at 2,675, Hudson with 2,162, Passaic at 1,801, Morris at 1,034, Sussex at 259, and Warren County at 227.
In regards to probable deaths reported Oct. 18, Essex has 311, Bergen has 307, Morris has 265, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 71 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,630,794 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Oct. 4, 36,616 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 794 COVID-related hospitalizations and 215 COVID-related deaths. All those are less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 3, breakthroughs accounted for 17.4% of all new cases (2,352 of 13,507), 2.0% of new hospilizations (17 of 834), and two of the 98 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Oct. 21, it declined to 0.87 from 0.89 the previous day. The daily rate of infections from those tested Oct. 16 was 5.0%; by region, the rate was 3.6% in the North, 6.1% in the Central region and 6.9% in the South.
The state reported 872 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 270 in the North, 264 in the Central and 338 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 214 are in intensive care units and 115 on ventilators. A total of 93 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions as of Oct. 19, the state has tracked 126 school outbreaks and 658 cases in 105 school districts linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 30 outbreaks and 137 cases from the week previous. According to state officials, the cases account for 564 students and 94 teachers across 19 counties.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey as of Oct. 19, Passaic County has five confirmed outbreak with 72 cases, Sussex has 11 confirmed outbreak with 45 cases, Bergen County has nine confirmed outbreak with 45 cases, Morris County has six confirmed outbreaks with 27 cases, Essex County has five confirmed outbreak with 20 cases and Hudson County has four confirmed outbreaks with 16 cases. No outbreaks were reported in Warren County.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 1360 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,344 of the cases, broken down between 720 residents and 624 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,786 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 33,950 residents and 23,202 staff, for a total of 57,152.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,603 on Oct. 21. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,992 residents deaths and 146 staff deaths.