The COVID-19 vaccine: What we know

With approval by the FDA expected within days, officials in New Jersey prepare for rollout of vaccines across the state
Credit: (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, one of two expected to come on line before the end of the year.

As federal experts determined that “known and potential benefits” outweigh the related risks when it comes to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, New Jersey officials are poised in the coming weeks to launch their part of what is likely the largest immunization campaign in history.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday that state officials have fine-tuned their vaccine plan and are working with a network of public and private health-care providers and other stakeholders to be ready. They aim to begin immunizing priority individuals within a day or so of a final federal approval, which could come as early as Thursday.

“It’s safe based on everything we know,” Murphy said Tuesday during a public conversation with SkyBridge Capital’s founder and partner Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served as President Donald Trump’s communication director. (Both Murphy and Scaramucci worked at Goldman Sachs.)

The state hopes to get 70% of the eligible population, some 4.7 million adults, immunized within six months of the vaccine becoming available to the general public, likely April or May 2021. “That’s a reach, but we’re going to try,” Murphy said.

Steps in a process

As of Tuesday afternoon, here’s where the process stands:

  • A US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel reported Tuesday that Pfizer’s vaccine is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection seven days after the final dose. The process involves two shots 21 days apart and the results were similar across those of various ages, genders, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and underlying health. At this point it has only been recommended for those age 16 and older; tests in younger children are now underway.
  • Mild, temporary side effects were common, with 84% of subjects experiencing injection-site reactions, 63% reporting fatigue and 55% noting headache. Some also reported muscle pain, chills or fever, although in lower numbers.
  • The FDA is scheduled to meet Thursday and, based on the report, will likely approve the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use in the United States. A review of a vaccine by Moderna — which has shown similar efficacy — is planned for next week.
  • New Jersey should receive the first shipment — anticipated to be 76,000 doses from Pfizer — between Dec. 11 and 14, and officials expect to begin vaccinating residents anytime after Dec. 15, according to the state Department of Health. (The federal government plans to ship another 76,000 Pfizer “second shot” doses for this initial group within three weeks, the DOH said.)
  • The first batch of Moderna vaccines is slated to arrive sometime between Dec. 18 and 21, DOH predicts, and immunizations could begin on Dec. 22, assuming a favorable FDA review. Murphy estimates the state will have at least 300,000 doses of both vaccines in state by the end of December. “We’ll get the first batch (from Pfizer) within a week,” he said Tuesday. “And each week we’ll get larger and larger batches.”
  • New Jersey health officials plan to prioritize health-care workers, emergency responders and residents and staffers at long-term care facilities for the first phase of vaccines. Other frontline workers — grocery store clerks, transit workers and others — will follow, along with people 65 and older in the general population and those in vulnerable communities, Murphy said. “By April or May, we’ll have the widespread availability to (cover) anybody in our state who wants the vaccine. And that to me is a complete game changer,” he added.
  • According to the DOH, more than 300 health-care entities have signed up to be vaccination sites, including hospitals, local health departments, community clinics and drug stores. In addition, through a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens, vaccines will be made available at long-term care facilities in New Jersey, which house 75,000 residents and employ 90,000 staffers.

Mass vaccinations have already begun in the United Kingdom, where Monday marked the start of what is being called “V-day,” just a year after the novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China. In Britain, vaccines will be administered at roughly 50 public hospitals and the priority is residents over age 80 who are hospitalized or have outpatient appointments at the facility, according to news reports.

First up was grandmother Margaret Keenan, due to turn 91 next week, the AP reported. “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year,” Keenan said.