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New Jersey will receive almost a half-million COVID-19 vaccine doses next week — the most the state has received in a week as it begins to ramp up distribution to more than 600 sites, officials said Wednesday. 

While the amount is not the "quantum leap" that Gov. Phil Murphy has said the state would soon receive, it is a 20% increase from the current week and comes at a time when COVID-19 is again spreading rapidly throughout New Jersey.

The shipment from the federal stockpile will include 51,700 one-shot Johnson & Johnson doses — a significant bump from the 10,200 J&J doses the state received this week. 

"The sense we're getting, and it's a sense from the feds, is that number is only going to go up," Murphy said at a briefing Wednesday. 

The increase comes as COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly in New Jersey than in any other place in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Almost all of the state's COVID metrics have crept up in recent weeks after seeing a significant decline in January and February. Hospitalizations reached 2,136 on Tuesday, its highest total since Feb. 19.

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The increase is likely due to more contagious COVID variants from the U.K., Brazil, and South Africa that have been detected in New Jersey, experts say. Another variant from New York called B.1.526 is suspected of also being in New Jersey.

"We're following this very carefully across the Northeast — in New York, as well as in New Jersey," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Wednesday.

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"We're following the frequency of it, and early data does suggest increased transmissibility of B.1.526, although, to my understanding, not as transmissible as a B.1.1.7," she said, referring to the U.K. variant.

Murphy is banking on warmer weather and an increased supply of vaccine to bring the daily COVID case count down again. He has said New Jersey is expected to receive a vaccine windfall in early April.

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Key to that is the J&J vaccine, which, unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, requires only regular refrigeration and no booster shot.

The state Health Department purchased three vans recently to visit mostly urban communities and vaccinate people with J&J doses. 

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That vaccine will also be used to innoculate the homebound under a plan where local health department staff would make the visits and give the shots, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Wednesday.

"The J&J supply is the bigger game changer," Murphy said. "It allows us the flexibility that we just don't have with Pfizer and Moderna."

Persichilli said her goal is for everyone to be within a 20 to 30 minute drive from a vaccination site. 

There is still a significant logjam in trying to get a vaccine appointment in New Jersey. Eligibility has been opened this month to teachers and other essential workers. But many senior citizens, who have been eligible since mid-January, say they still can't get appointments due to the state's reliance on cumbersome online portals to make the appointments.

The vaccine breakdown

New Jersey will get 494,430 vaccine doses next week, up from 416,660 this week. It breaks down to:

  • Pfizer: 267,930  doses, up from 231,660 this week. Next week's doses will include 148,590 first doses and 119,340 second doses 
  • Moderna: 174,800 doses split evenly between first and second doses, the same amount as this week
  • J&J: 51,700 doses, up from 10,200 this week.

Staff Writer Lindy Washburn contributed to this article.

Scott Fallon covers the environment for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about how New Jersey’s environment affects your health and well-being,  please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: fallon@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @newsfallon 

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