Despite growing public anxiety over access to the COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey — a situation fueled in part by limited supply — state officials said immunizations will be widely available by this summer, even if most of the necessary doses arrive later than first anticipated.
“I don’t think the public expectation in New Jersey is too high,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday, noting that vaccine shipments are expected to increase in late spring to better meet demand. New Jerseyans have expressed widespread frustration for weeks over the limited vaccination appointments available statewide and with the complex, decentralized registration and scheduling systems that have left many eligible people unable to get a shot.
Murphy’s comments came the day after reports that Johnson & Johnson, the New Jersey-based drug company expected to receive federal emergency authorization for its vaccine later this month, may have fewer doses available initially than anticipated and take longer to produce the larger supplies needed to reach millions of additional Americans. New Jersey and other states have hoped to use the Johnson & Johnson serum — which requires only one dose unlike the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines now approved — to reach underserved and vulnerable populations.
Since the coronavirus immunization program launched in mid-December, New Jersey has administered nearly 1.5 million shots and more than 400,000 people have had the two doses required to provide maximum protection against the virus. More than 770,000 residents have likely been diagnosed with COVID-19 since last year, including nearly 23,000 who have died.
Eventually, the state hopes to immunize 70% of the eligible adults — 4.7 million people — and Murphy said at his media briefing Wednesday that he believed the state was still on track to meet that goal by this summer.
Ongoing ‘supply and demand imbalance’
“We still think we’re going to get there,” Murphy said, although there might not be enough doses for people to easily get appointments until April or May. “But we’re going to do everything we can to find every dose that we can as soon as we can. There’s no question there’s a supply and demand imbalance.”
State Department of Health commissioner Judy Persichilli agreed the state was well set up to meet the public demand for immunizations, once it has adequate amounts of serum from the federal government. With some 250 vaccination sites, including six state-operated mega-sites, tens of thousands of people can now be inoculated daily.
With nearly 1.5 million shots administered and 2.5 million more people registered for a vaccination, Persichilli noted the state is heading in the right direction. “So if you give us vaccines, with the number of points of dispensation in New Jersey, we could easily get 3.5 million people vaccinated in a short amount of time,” she said Wednesday. “And we would be pretty far along in our journey” to reach 4.7 million residents, she said.
Vaccination is currently available in New Jersey to health care workers, staff and residents in long-term care and other congregate living settings, those over age 65 and individuals of any age who have certain pre-existing conditions, like cancer, diabetes or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). It is also open to smokers; officials said that, altogether, this covers nearly 4 million residents.
Immunizations are being given at hospitals throughout the state, as well as at public health offices, county facilities, community clinics, drugstores and by a handful of private practice groups. The state maintains a registration system that is linked to some of these sites, but people are encouraged to sign up directly with vaccination clinics in their community or county, when possible.
“We have a massive distribution system that needs better supply,” Murphy reiterated Wednesday, urging everyone to continue wearing face masks correctly, keeping their distance from others, washing hands and getting tested for the virus until immunizations are widely available. “And even if you have received the vaccine, it is just as vital that you continue doing these things, as well, as it takes time for your body to build up its defenses and to work with the vaccine,” he added.