N.J. opens 1st COVID vaccination mega-site at shopping mall – NJ.com

A former Sears at a shopping mall in Rockaway opened Friday morning as the first of six planned “mega-sites” New Jersey is setting up for mass vaccinations for the coronavirus, though rollout of the vaccine continues to be slower than officials want.

Gov. Phil Murphy was on hand as police officers and firefighters became the first people to get their shots at the Rockaway Townsquare site.

The Morris County location is one of two mega-sites the state is opening Friday. The other is at Rowan College of South Jersey in Sewell, Gloucester County. The final four — in Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, and Middlesex — are expected to open in the coming days.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the sites will eventually serve as vaccination “hubs” in New Jersey, in addition to the network of more than 200 smaller inoculations sites across the state.

Officials said the 30,000-square-foot Rockaway site will eventually be able to administer 2,400 vaccinations a day 7 days a week.

Right now, though, supply is short and the inoculations are restricted to healthcare workers and police and fire personnel. About 100 people were slated to be vaccinated Friday in Rockaway. Persichilli said the site will be fully operational for the general public by May.

Officials have blamed the federal government for a slow vaccine supply.

“I hope the feds give us enough supply sooner than later so we can do 2,400 a day,” Murphy said at a news conference after touring the Rockaway site.

Still, Persichilli called Friday “a day of hope.”

“As each first responder walks in here to raise their sleeve and be vaccinated and join the health care workers who have received theirs, we thank them not only for all they are doing to save lives and protect our communities but also for being role models showing their faith in the safe and effective vaccines at our disposal to help end the pandemic,” Murphy said. “And when we are ready to move forward, this mega-site will be a place for the general public to come to receive their vaccines.”

Jay Alderton, a firefighter and EMT in nearby Morris Township, was the first to get a shot in Rockaway.

“We are all used to charged head on into potentially dangerous situations, but COVID-19 has added a whole new layer of uncertainty and change for us all,” Alderton said. “Even with all the precautions we are taking during our daily exposures — wearing our masks, constantly sanitizing our apparatus and our stations, the extra time lost getting to patients while we don our PPE — there is still no guarantee that not only could we contract the virus, but the scarier reality is that we could possibly bring it home to our loved ones.”

The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of New Jersey’s eligible population — about 4.7 million people — by the end of May, which officials admit is a daunting task.

So far, there have been at least 137,829 doses coronavirus vaccine administered in New Jersey as of Wednesday, a little more than three weeks since the first shots were given — though that may be an undercount due to reporting delays, officials said.

New Jersey has received 572,250 doses and has administered 155,458, according to a running tally from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The state is administering the vaccine in phases. Currently, only those who work in health care and those in longterm care facilities and other congregant living settings, such as prisons, are eligible to be vaccinated in the group dubbed “1a.”

On Thursday, police and fire professionals became the first people in groub “1b” to be eligible for the vaccine. The state has not announced when more people in that group would become eligible.

“New Jersey’s phasing ensures the limited vaccines we have will be distributed in an equitable manner,” Persichilli said Friday.

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There are about 650,000 health care workers in the state, and Murphy has said people at nursing homes should be fully vaccinated by early February. Officials have said vaccines should be available for the general public by April or May.

Officials stressed Friday that New Jersey, like other states, is at the mercy of the federal government for its vaccine supply.

Asked if the state’s rollout is going as planned, Murphy said: “We don’t have the supply from the feds that we need. Within the context of a large supply/demand imbalance, I like everything we’re doing inside the state to get prepared. But they don’t have the doses they could use at full capacity. … This is gonna take some time.”

The governor said this has been complicated by the transition of power in Washington, as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to replace President Donald Trump on Jan. 20.

“I believe in the fullness of time, once we get the supply chain from Washington into a batter place, once we get a new administration and a hand-over has taken place, I believe we’ll be in a meaningfully better place,” Murphy said.

New Jersey on Tuesday opened its online preregistration portal for residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine when the eligibility is expanded beyond health care workers and long-term care facilities. More than 450,000 people have registered, which overwhelmed the system at times and resulted in error messages.

The state on Thursday reported a single-day record 6,314 new confirmed positive tests and another 123 confirmed deaths as hospitalizations declined slightly for the first time since New Year’s Day.

Since March, the state has reported 19,646 COVID-19 deaths — 17,587 confirmed and 2,059 probable fatalities from complications related to the virus.

“We’re not out of this yet,” Murphy said Friday. “My fear is the next few weeks are gonna be really tough. But there is no question there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Matt Arco may be reached at marco@njadvancemedia.com.

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com.

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N.J. opens 1st COVID vaccination mega-site at shopping mall – NJ.com

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