N.J. coronavirus update: Boosters can now be booked through state website

A health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

In this July 22, 2021 file photo, a health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New Jersey officials say residents who qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot can now book an appointment online through the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System, or NJVSS. The system was first introduced nearly a year ago, when vaccines first became available.

The only vaccine booster shot available is for the Pfizer vaccine. It was approved in September by federal officials for people 65 and older and to those who are considered at high risk for contracting the virus. An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Wednesday and Thursday to decide whether Moderna booster shots will be available to those who meet similar requirements to the Pfizer booster shot. The panel will also meet to decide if Johnson & Johnson’s booster shot should be available to those who received the J&J vaccine.

While people who have never used NJVSS will have to register before they can book their appointment, people who have previously used NJVSS to register for their initial shots will not need to register again. However, they will need to verify the information they entered from when they registered for their first vaccine appointment, according to Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

“You will need to verify your name, email address, phone number, and birth date,” she said. “You will then receive an email inviting you to schedule an appointment for your Pfizer booster dose.”

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More than 1.1 million residents received the Pfizer vaccine through the end of March, making them eligible to receive the booster shot. To help clear the confusion of when people are eligible, the state Health Department’s website now has a pop-up message that will greet visitors informing them of their eligibility for a booster shot.

The commissioner also announced an awareness campaign to notify people with “higher-risk” jobs — like workers in health care, education, and first responders — that they are also eligible for the booster shot. The ads will appear on billboards, trains, buses, and at public transportation stations.

A “few weeks” needed to fix issue with testing vendor

New Jersey officials said it is going to take “the next few weeks” to sort out delays to COVID testing that were supposed to begin at some school districts today, as a vaccine mandate to teachers went into effect Monday.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced in August that teachers would have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or be subject to weekly testing. On Friday, state officials informed districts that opted to use a state vendor for testing teachers that they would be allowed “limited and targeted flexibility” with the testing requirement.

“It’s like all these other big steps that we’ve taken the first few weeks, not everything’s a straight line,” Murphy said. “We will get there, and this is something that we think will ultimately be a very natural process.”

There are three regional vendors available to districts through the state, according to Commissioner Persichilli. It was not known at the time of the briefing how many districts have been affected by the vendor delay or if whether many have opted to take advantage of the flexibility.

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