State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) wants Gov. Phil Murphy to drop his vaccine mandate for healthcare workers and he is pointing to a newly released study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make his case.
The GOP lawmaker said the Murphy Administration is ignoring evidence supporting the efficacy of natural immunity in people who have recovered from COVID.
“The governor and his health commissioner are missing a crucial variable in their COVID spread equation,” said Pennacchio. “People who have survived the virus have a natural defense against future infections. It is the body’s way of protecting itself, and with the rampant rate of transmission we’ve seen in the past few weeks, there are many more residents walking around with powerful antibodies.”
On Jan. 19, Murphy signed an executive order requiring health care workers in New Jersey to be fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, or face termination. The governor said all healthcare workers covered by the order will need to be vaccinated by the dates outlined in the order and there no longer will be an option “to submit to testing as an alternative to vaccination.”
The CDC release pointed to by Pennacchio was a study of 1.1 million COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in New York and California during May 2021 through November 2021. Researchers found that people who had previously been infected with COVID-19 were better protected against the Delta variant than those who were vaccinated alone.
“Importantly, infection-derived protection was greater after the highly transmissible Delta variant became predominant, coinciding with early declining of vaccine-induced immunity in many persons,” CDC’s study said.
But CDC qualified the results in noting that protection against Delta was greatest among those who were both vaccinated and had survived a previous COVID-19 infection. Least-protected, according to the study, were people who had never been infected or vaccinated.
CDC Study Caveats
The study was done before the Omicron variant emerged, “for which vaccine or infection-derived immunity might be diminished,” the report noted. Additionally, the report noted that booster shots were not yet widely available.
Moreover, authors of the study wrote, “this analysis did not include information on the severity of initial infection and does not account for the full range of morbidity and mortality represented by the groups with previous infections.”
“Initial infection among unvaccinated persons increases risk for serious illness, hospitalization, long-term sequelae, and death; by Nov. 30, 2021, approximately 130,781 residents of California and New York had died from COVID-19,” the CDC’s report said.
It federal health agency concluded that “vaccination remains the safest and primary strategy to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, associated complications, and onward transmission.”
Mother Nature Versus Murphy Vaccine Push
For Pennacchio, the biggest takeaway from the CDC study was the findings confirming that natural immunity to COVID “is real, it is effective, and it is equal or superior to vaccinations.”
“Mother Nature is already doing more to stop the virus than the Governor’s renewed vaccine push could hope to achieve,” the State Senator said, who also promoted research from Israel, which he said, “found natural antibodies in recovered COVID patients to be extremely effective.”
“Once again, we’ve seen an overly dramatic action by the Administration, but the science tells us it is not necessary,” Pennacchio said. “The aggressive policy will inevitably contribute to an already dangerous staffing shortage in many hospitals.”
‘Essential That We Do Everything We Can’
Murphy defended his action, stating “With the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreading across the country and New Jersey, it is essential that we do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable populations.”
“With immunity waning approximately five months after a primary COVID-19 vaccination, receiving a booster dose is necessary to protect yourself and those around you,” he said. “It is critically important that we slow the spread throughout our healthcare and congregate settings in order to protect our vulnerable populations and the staff that care for them.”
Healthcare workers in the Garden State continue to point to staff shortages—an issue that both Murphy and his state health commissioner, Judy Persichilli, acknowledged at a Dec. 8, 2021, press briefing, where Persichilli said that hospital workers are suffering burn-out almost two years into the COVID pandemic and many nurses are aging out of their jobs.
Murphy Jan. 6 announced that he was mobilizing New Jersey’s National Guard to help staff under-staffed long-term care facilities throughout the state.
Sens. Pennacchio, Testa Offer Natural Immunity Bill
The push to include national immunity in health care policy is not new from State Republicans—Pennacchio and State Sen. Michael Testa (R-1) held a hearing in December 2021 to discuss natural immunity from COVID.
In November 2021, the two GOP state senators introduced legislation (S 4136) that would allow schools, employers, restaurants, and other businesses to accept an individual’s “verbal confirmation” that they have natural immunity due to a COVID-19 infection “to satisfy any vaccination or testing requirement that may be imposed as a condition of employment or to receive services, participate in activities, attend school or college, or gain admission to a place or venue,” a press release said.
“Just as the virus has adapted with variants, it is about time for the state’s COVID policies to adapt,” said Testa. “Real people are being fired, kicked out of college, and discriminated against in various ways due to vaccine mandates imposed by Governor Murphy and others.”
“It’s modern segregation that’s not the least bit based on the latest science. Our bill is an effort to save more than a million New Jerseyans with natural immunity from unnecessary harm, discrimination, and compliance burden,” Testa said.
As of Jan. 26, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,802,164 with 6,023 total new PCR cases. There were 1,359 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 283,221. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,085,385.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 143 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 28,186. The state listed probable deaths at 2,907, bringing the overall total to 31,093. State officials noted 75 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Jan. 26, Bergen had a total of 614 new confirmed cases and 110 new probable cases, Essex 406 new cases and 47 new probable case, Hudson 631 new cases and 64 new probable cases, Morris 261 new confirmed cases and 52 new probable cases, Passaic 375 new cases and 45 new probable cases, Sussex 96 new cases and 13 new probable cases, and Warren 55 new cases and nine new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,102, followed by Bergen at 2,940, Hudson with 2,362, Passaic at 1,996, Morris at 1,159, Sussex at 348, and Warren County at 281.
In regards to probable deaths reported Jan. 24, Bergen has 321, Essex has 309, Morris has 276, Hudson has 224, Passaic has 202, Sussex has 79 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Jan. 26, it declined to 0.58 from 0.61 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Jan. 21 was 15.9%; by region, the rate was 13.3% in the North, 17.3% in the Central region and 20.7% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 3,858 patients hospitalized—under 4,000 for the first time since Dec. 29, 2021—as all but one of the 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Jan. 25. By region, there were 1,515 in the North, 1,333 in the Central and 1,010 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 669 are in intensive care units and 433 on ventilators. A total of 551 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.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 562 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 24,654 of the cases, broken down between 11,266 residents and 13,388 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,351 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 45,075 residents and 36,408 staff, for a total of 81,483.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,971 on Jan. 25. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,369 residents deaths and 148 staff deaths.
According to the state dashboard with 62.7% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 17,820 and new staff cases 4,371 in the last week as of Jan. 16. Cumulatively, 217,685 cases have been reported— 167,619 students and 50,066 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 85.2% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen was tops at 91.0%, followed by Warren at 88.1%, Sussex at 86.4%, Passaic at 85.5%, Essex at 81.8%, Morris at 82.9%, and Hudson at 78.3%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Jan. 26, the state has tracked 432 school outbreaks and 2,683 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 26 outbreaks and 318 cases from the week previous.
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 in the new report, Bergen County has 53 confirmed outbreaks with 314 cases, Morris County has 32 confirmed outbreaks with 200 cases, Passaic County has 21 confirmed outbreaks with 178 cases, Sussex has 32 confirmed outbreaks with 167 cases, Essex County has 27 confirmed outbreaks with 142 cases, Hudson County has 18 confirmed outbreaks with 89 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,371,572 in-state, plus an additional 545,862 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,917,434 as of Jan. 26.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,347,650 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 219,071 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,656,721. A total of 76% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in New Jersey and 90% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,445,015 for Pfizer and 1,202,817 for Moderna. A total of 57,205 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,705,037 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 49% of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 697,361 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 562,456, Hudson 503,531, Morris 375,496, Passaic 341,472, Sussex 90,001, and Warren 58,471.