N.J. COVID vaccine update: More than 4M residents now eligible to get vaccinated starting today – nj.com

More than five weeks after the first coronavirus vaccine was administered in New Jersey, more than 4 million additional residents — including anyone 65 and older — become eligible Thursday to receive the first of two shots to protect against COVID-19.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced the first major expansion to the vaccine program after federal health officials changed guidance for eligibility and advised states not to hold back second doses.

In addition to those 65 and older, anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 with chronic medical conditions may also make an appointment to receive the vaccine starting Thursday. The expanded group includes 2 million smokers, though some are included in the 65-and-older group, and up to 1 million people with other health conditions. The 65 and older group includes an estimated 1.47 million people in New Jersey.

Murphy said rising confidence in the reliability of the supply chain for continued delivery of doses makes that massive expansion in eligibility possible. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart and the Moderna vaccine requires two doses four weeks apart.

“It is somewhat if not largely based on the anticipation — not guarantee, but anticipation — of increased deliveries of vaccines as the federal government will no longer be holding back doses, we are confident in taking these steps,” Murphy said. “We have set the infrastructure we need to do this job and we are now ready to begin to ramp up our vaccination efforts exponentially.

Eligible people who live, work or study in New Jersey may receive the vaccine by appointment at one of the approved locations.

“We have 259 points of distribution, 165 of which are already open as we sit here today, and the others are in the process of being opened,” Murphy said Wednesday. “And of those 259, that includes the six mega sites.”

People are asked to register on the state’s website and then make an appointment at one of the sites.

The list of medical conditions for those 16 to 64 includes cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Down syndrome, heart conditions, including example heart failure, coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy, obesity, severe obesity, sickle cell disease and Type-2 diabetes. Smokers are also eligible in this group.

Individuals who are pregnant or those in an immunocompromised state with a weakened immune system from things like a solid organ transplant are also eligible but should first speak to their doctors about vaccinations, health officials said.

New Jersey is using an honor system for vaccinations with no requirement to show proof of medical conditions or age, officials said. That could change if problems arise.

“The culture of vaccines generally, hopefully will be a more positive experience than not, and we want it to be a positive experience because it will set the stage for future vaccinations,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday. “People show integrity, show up, get vaccinated. So far, we don’t see any reason that further mandates on identification are necessary. It may be in the future but we just want a culture of positive vaccinations.”

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The major expansion in eligibility could lead to lengthy delays to get an appointment of up to eight weeks, health officials said. More than 1.2 million people have already pre-registered on the state’s website, officials said.

According to the CDC’s tracker, New Jersey has been sent 654,900 doses so far. The state has administered 277,118 doses including 245,785 first shots and 31,239 second shots, according to the Department of Health’s dashboard. A small number of shots were not labeled first or second doses, leaving a discrepancy between the totals.

The vaccine news comes as cases continue to rise in recent weeks following the holidays.

New Jersey on Wednesday reported a record 6,922 new confirmed positive tests for the coronavirus and 95 additional deaths.

The seven-day average for new confirmed cases increased Wednesday to 5,679, up 22% from a week ago and 18% from a month ago. That’s the highest seven-day average in the outbreak to date, though the lack of testing in the spring likely undercounted the extent of the infections in the first wave.

New Jersey’s hospitals reported 3,638 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday night, down 88 patients from a day earlier. Hospitals discharged 495 patients in that 24-hour period.

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

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N.J. COVID vaccine update: More than 4M residents now eligible to get vaccinated starting today – nj.com

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