(Philly Voice – by Pat Ralph) The New Jersey populations at highest risk of coronavirus infection will be the first in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine – whenever one becomes available.
That’s according to the state’s “equitable and workable” COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan unveiled Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy and health officials.
The goals of the state’s distribution playbook are to provide equitable access to a vaccine, achieve maximum protection among the population, build public trust and ensure affordability, Murphy said.
Given that initial supplies will be limited, those at highest risk of infection – like health care workers, long-term care employees and dentists – will receive it first. Vulnerable populations, including seniors and people with underlying medical conditions, will be next in line.
The state then will distribute the vaccine to other groups, with the hope of vaccinating 70% of New Jersey’s eligible adult population within six months. That equates to about 81,000 people per day, five days a week.
The plan will be carried out by local health departments, health centers, hospitals and pharmacies. State officials submitted the plan to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month.
The months-long process to devise a playbook began at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy said. The strategy was put together by state officials from several government agencies and departments, as well as local health officials.
The distribution and allocation plan remains a work in progress and will be informed by recommendations from a number of stakeholders, including federal and state health officials, Murphy said.
He warned against vaccine skepticism, saying it could be as lethal as the virus itself.
“Online rumors and social-media-driven conspiracy theories will not jeopardize our ability to build statewide immunity against this virus,” Murphy said. “We’re committed to building trust in the vaccine in our communities.”
Murphy also said that the state will not rush forward on a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We will be methodical and deliberate,” Murphy said. “Our health experts will be closely reviewing the science and will make the call as to when a vaccine, and which one or ones, will be acceptable for New Jersey.”
U.S. officials have suggested a coronavirus vaccine could become available in limited capacity as early as late this year or early 2021, with widespread distribution to the general public not expected until later next year.
There are four companies currently conducting Phase 3 trials for COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Only Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate does not require two doses or subfreezing storage temperatures.
Federal funding will be necessary for the state’s distribution strategy to move ahead, Murphy said. He warned of the possible ramifications without additional federal assistance.
“If we do not receive any additional funds, achieving a 70% vaccination rate will take many years, if it happens at all,” Murphy said.
Murphy stressed that residents need to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing until a vaccine becomes available.
“We cannot let this virus run rampant until that day,” Murphy said. “We must work hard to make sure our communities stay safe and healthy until that day comes.”