N.J. Health Commissioner expects COVID-19 vaccines to land in N.J. next month

A gloved finger prepares the COVID-19 vaccine to administer to a volunteer.

Senior Clinical Research Nurse Ajithkumar Sukumaran prepares the COVID-19 vaccine to administer to a volunteer, at a clinic in London, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

New Jersey expects shipments of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines as soon as December, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Friday. The earliest shipments are expected to go to health care professionals and first responders first, with the vaccine likely becoming available to the public in April or May, she said The state considers the 100,000 employees and 90,000 residents in long-term care facilities to be a high priority.  Nearly 40,000 people in long-term facilities, including staff and residents, were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus between March and September. More than 7,000 died as a result. The Garden State has reported the highest long-term care case rate nationwide and the second-highest death rate, after Massachusetts, according to federal data, Persichilli said long-term facilities would be vaccinated through agreements the federal government has set with CVS and Walgreens,  Persichilli said. The Health Commissioner said the Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart, with 130,000 units of the vaccine coming in mid-December, followed by another 130,000 units by the end of the year. Moderna, which is given in two shots 28 days apart, would likely send 100,000 doses in December and another 100,000 weeks later, she said. “So we could have between 400,000 and 460,000 doses of vaccine in the state by early January,” said Persichilli. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, while Moderna’s needs only refrigeration. Persichilli said 40 of the state’s hospitals have said they have the ability to maintain ultra-cold storage. New Jersey is aiming to vaccinate about 4.7 million adults, or about 70% of the state’s population, within six months of availability, according to the commissioner.

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The announcement comes the same day Pfizer asked U.S. regulators for emergency use of its vaccine, with Moderna not far behind. While residents await the vaccine,” we need to actually double down on our public health measures,” Persichilli said Friday. “We must continue to social distance,” said the commissioner. “Wear a mask and wash our hands frequently, especially now that we have statewide community spread.” She urged people to get tested and participate actively in the contact tracing process. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Friday, reported 3.635 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 297,370. The transmission rate is 1.4. The seven-day average of coronavirus cases for the second week in November, according to state figures, reached more than 3,500 cases daily, compared with about 900 cases a day in October. In September, the average was about 460. Hospitalizations are also up, reaching more than 2,500, compared with about 760 a month ago and roughly 400 the month before that.

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