N.J. plans for mass vaccinations

A woman stands near signs at University Hospital's COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark

A woman stands near signs at University Hospital's COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The state of New Jersey has begun building out a statewide network of sites to perform mass vaccinations – but the news comes as pharmaceutical manufacturers fall short of promised doses.

At a weekly COVID-19 press briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy announced six forthcoming vaccine “mega-sites” and plans to eventually establish 200 satellite sites in hospitals, urgent care centers, and chain pharmacies.

The six major vaccination sites will be located at the Meadowlands Complex in Bergen County, Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Morris County, Moorestown Mall in Burlington County, Rowan College in Gloucester County, the NJ Convention Center in Middlesex County, and the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Although thousands have already received prioritized doses of the vaccine, Gov. Murphy said there was a long way to go towards a goal of vaccinating 70% of the state within six months to, hopefully, effectively halt virus transmission.

“This is still a drop in a very large bucket,” he said. “We will need millions of you to raise your sleeve.”

Before the vaccine makes its way to the general public, it will be limited to certain groups prioritized under a tiered rollout system. Currently, the vaccine is only administered in hospitals and only to health care workers with direct or indirect exposure to the virus, or residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Officials said 2,149 of the state’s approximately 650,000 health care workers had already received their first round of the two-stage vaccination, and that the drug would hit long-term care facilities beginning Dec. 28. Non-hospital health care workers will be next in line for doses, followed by certain essential workers and then any adults aged 65 and older that also have underlying medical conditions.

However, N.J. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli warned that federal data showed planned vaccine shipments were, so far, coming up short.

She said vaccine-maker Pfizer had expected to ship about 87,000 doses of the drug next week, but had revised that down to just 53,000. Moderna, a competing vaccine manufacturer, revised down its projected deliveries for the entire month of December by 20%, from about 492,000 to 392,000 doses.

“We will be communicating consistently with the public about the timing of this vaccine plan and the amount of vaccines delivered weekly to New Jersey,” Persichilli said, indicating that pharmaceutical companies had not given specific reasons for the delays.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in New Jersey remain high, although there are signs that the second spike of the virus is beginning to subside. 

Officials said 3,975 new cases were detected overnight, for 423,226 total –– that’s down from an all-time high of 6,240 cases recorded on Dec. 12. Currently, 3,582 people are hospitalized with the virus in the state, including 715 in intensive care units, 480 of whom have been intubated on ventilators.

While the state had recently seen more patients admitted to hospitals than discharged, that trend had also begun to abate – 461 discharged Thursday, while 397 were admitted.

The state reported 44 new deaths, for a total of 16,216.

Like others, Gov. Murphy bemoaned the lack of progress in prying out more aid for state and local governments from a long-stalled plan for more federal stimulus and COVID-19 relief funds in congress.

He blamed leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“History will be extraordinarily unkind to these people,” he said.

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