N.J. residents 55 and older, adults with disabilities now eligible for coronavirus vaccine

Miriam Palomino, right, receives the COVID-19 vaccine in Paterson

Miriam Palomino, right, received the COVID-19 vaccine in Paterson, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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New Jersey has expanded its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility requirements again, making the shot available to anyone over the age of 55 starting Monday.

Another group now in line for the vaccine is people 16 and older with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD. Studies have shown that people with IDD are at a higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Celine Fortin, associate executive director of the Arc of New Jersey, said they need the shot because many people with IDD don’t fully grasp the public health precautions that help reduce the risk of infection in the first place.

“They might not understand or tolerate wearing a mask,” she said. “They might not understand the 6-foot distance rule.”

Although some people with IDD living in group homes or other facilities have gotten the shot, those who live at home are just becoming eligible.

Fortin said the past year has taken a particular toll on those with IDD, who’ve missed out on adult day care and other programs that had to close during the pandemic.

“The stress is on the individual. Their routine was upset. They weren’t getting some of the services and some of the educational programs that they were used to getting,” Fortin said.

She added that families of those with IDD were “thrilled” that the state opened vaccine eligibility to them but remained concerned about how quickly they could secure appointments.

People have reported trouble scheduling vaccine slots in New Jersey as demand has outpaced supply, but Gov. Phil Murphy has said he’s confident that an increased supply of vaccine from the Biden administration will make it possible to inoculate all of the newly eligible people in the Garden State.

New Jersey has fully vaccinated 1.7 million people so far, more than a quarter of its goal.

Also on the list for the vaccine come Monday is another group of frontline essential workers, including higher education and library staff, laundry services workers, and journalists.

Home services workers — such as construction and maintenance workers, code officials, HVAC technicians, electricians, and plumbers — will be able to sign up for the shot, too.

Steve Rodzinak, past president of the New Jersey State League of Master Plumbers, said they deserved the vaccine because of how much contact they have with other people.

“From the standpoint of the plumbers that I deal with, we talk to and interact with more people in a day than most of the police, fire, and rescue squad people do,” he said.

“I was really surprised that we weren’t included in the first responders,” Rodzinak added, “but, you know what, there’s only so much vaccine around. Get it to the people who are most at risk.”

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