CLOSE

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh at a new COVID vaccine site for Paterson, Passaic and Prospect Park at Dr. Hani Awadallah School on April 13, 2021. NorthJersey.com

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines appears to be waning in New Jersey, prompting Gov. Phil Murphy to shift the state's focus to outreach so that enough residents are vaccinated to ensure a return to near normalcy by early summer.

The number of vaccinations began to drop last week for the first time since the rollout began in December — a development Murphy said was "the beginning of a phase where we need to be proactive" to get people vaccinated. 

Almost 2.6 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, about halfway toward the goal of 4.7 million, or 70% of the state's adult population. That goal is considered key to controlling the virus by reducing the number of people susceptible to it so that it gradually fades away.

The decline in daily vaccinations administered is a reversal after months of demand outstripping supply. For the first few months of the year, New Jerseyans spent days on websites trying to book appointments while some traveled across the state to get a coveted shot.

But this week saw thousands of appointments available across the state that likely went unfilled, especially in South Jersey. Same-day appointments were easy to get even in busy North Jersey. 

At the vaccination mega-site in the Meadowlands, only six people stood in line at one point Monday afternoon, while some vaccinators sat around their desks with little to do. Walk-ins without appointments, which New Jersey officials cracked down on in January, are now being accepted at certain times of the day at the mega-site in Atlantic County.

COVID NEWS: NJ sees a few rare 'breakthrough' cases in those fully vaccinated against virus

NEW JERSEY: Hospitals fill with younger COVID patients as more seniors get vaccinated

Television ads have already begun airing that encourage residents to get vaccinated, featuring state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli; Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the president of University Hospital in Newark; and Maritza Beniquez, an emergency department nurse at that hospital who was the first person in the state to be vaccinated. 

Murphy said he plans to launch more outreach efforts soon. The state will need to give about 900,000 additional people a first shot by the end of May to meet his goal to have 70% of all New Jersey adults vaccinated by the end of June. 

"We're going to need to be much more offensive to get the rest of the 4.7 million across the goal line," Murphy said Wednesday.  

The question of whether New Jersey would reach its goal had long been framed as a supply issue: Will there be enough doses on hand to reach that many people by the start of summer?

But now the question has been turned around: Will that many people be willing to be vaccinated by the start of summer?

Those questions come at a critical time when New Jersey hovers at an inflection point in the pandemic. 

Story continues after graph

The state has had the nation’s highest per capita death rate from COVID for several days. And New Jersey has had one of the highest rates of new COVID cases of any state in the nation for weeks, currently second only to Michigan.

Key measures of the virus’ rate of transmission and the number of patients hospitalized have ticked slightly upward this week, after heading in the right direction last week. The number of patients hospitalized — 2,114 on Tuesday night — is more than five times what it was at the pandemic’s lowest ebb in September.

Despite the uncertainty, Murphy plans to unveil a timeline next week for lifting restrictions along with protocols for summer activities, from graduation ceremonies to day camp.

VACCINE SEARCH: Want to get the COVID vaccine in NJ? Scheduling tips from pros

MORE: What can I do now that I've received the COVID vaccine? NJ health experts share advice

New Jersey officials hope vaccine hesitancy is not behind the drop. 

They say interest is still high, based on surveys of callers to the state’s 211 help line. The most recent results, as of Tuesday morning, “found 69% of unvaccinated [adults] want to or plan to get the vaccine,” said Donna Leusner, a health department spokeswoman.

Appointments have opened up considerably. 

The popular "Vaccine Bot NJ," a software program that constantly monitors vaccine provider websites and posts news about availability on Twitter, last week found more than 29,000 appointments at the Atlantic County mega-site. 

Ken Hsu, a software engineer who created the bot, said Wednesday he began noticing demand gradually falling around April 1 and then dropping dramatically in the last 10 days. 

"I think that the people who really wanted the vaccine have gotten it," he said. "I don't think it's vaccine hesitancy that necessarily is causing this. I think it's a matter of convenience, an attitude of 'I'll get to it when it fits my schedule.'"

Volunteers who have booked appointments for seniors have also seen demand for their services go down. 

"Overall, it seems like with Pfizer and Moderna, it's much easier now to schedule these appointments than the previous few months," said Dee Kalman, a Bergen County middle school teacher who has booked more than 100 appointments. "For the first time in months, I just turned off the Twitter notifications [for vaccine availability news] and it's been a nice little break."

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 

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/coronavirus/2021/04/22/nj-covid-vaccine-demand-declines-prompting-outreach-murphy/7323090002/