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Governor Phil Murphy gives details on NJ vs USA vaccination numbers during his latest press conference in late March. NorthJersey.com

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New Jersey will allow people age 16 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine in two weeks, a dramatic expansion of eligibility ahead of schedule, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. 

The decision to lower the age threshold on April 19 comes as New Jersey leads the nation in cases per capita in the past seven days, with 351 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Murphy's announcement is the largest expansion of eligibility and will happen about two weeks before he had planned. He has said that by May 1, "everybody's up to bat," which would align with President Joe Biden's plan for widespread vaccine eligibility for adults.

"Given the trajectory we are on, we believe this is the right time to put our program into higher gear," Murphy said during a coronavirus briefing in Trenton.

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Murphy announced the expansion the same day those 55 and older became eligible to receive the vaccine. New Jersey has lagged behind neighboring states in reducing the age requirements, at least in part because it hasn't had enough supply to keep up with the demand. 

The state is expecting another 550,000 doses this week, and that has "better positioned our state to be able to expand eligibility," Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said. 

As of Monday morning, 3 million people had received a first vaccine dose and 1.8 million had been fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health. Of those, about 74% of people between the ages of 65 and 79 have received at least one dose; 70% of those 80 and older have received at least one dose, Persichilli said. 

Although there is high demand, the distribution of the vaccine has been uneven. Nearly 57% of vaccine recipients have been white, followed by 9% who are Hispanic or Latino, 8.6% who are Asian and nearly 6% who are Black, Persichilli said. 

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The vaccination percentages have increased since February in communities of color, but the demand within them is not showing up in the data. Murphy said 98% of all New Jersey residents are within 5 miles of a vaccine location. 

"While we are seeing slight increases among minority populations getting vaccinated," Persichilli said, "we still have some work to do to build up those percentages." 

In addition to the expanded eligibility, Murphy announced Monday that the Health Department will no longer advise fully vaccinate individuals to quarantine after traveling domestically or to get tested before and after traveling. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last recommended dose. 

Dustin Racioppi is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to his work covering New Jersey’s governor and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: racioppi@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @dracioppi 

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