NJ teachers, many others to become eligible for COVID vaccine. Here's the full list, dates
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announces new eligibilities for the vaccine in March. NorthJersey.com
Hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans — including K-12 teachers — will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine this month, the first major expansion to a distribution system that has been logjammed for almost two months, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.
The arrival this week of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot COVID vaccine along with Pfizer and Moderna doubling production should allow residents and workers to get shots more easily, officials said.
But Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli cautioned that not everyone will be able to get an appointment once eligible.
"Despite the additional vaccine coming to the state, we are still in a time of scarce vaccine supply," Persichilli said at a news briefing. "So not everyone will be able to book an appointment immediately upon becoming categorically eligible."
Eligibility will come in two waves. Those eligible on March 15 include:
- Pre-K-to-12 educators and support staff
- Child care workers
- Transportation workers
- Additional public safety workers such as probation workers
- Migrant farm workers
- Members of tribal communities
- Homeless people and those living in shelters, including domestic violence shelters
Two weeks later, on March 29, those working in the following industries become eligible:
- Food production, agriculture and food distribution
- Elder care and support
- Warehousing and logistics
- Social services support staff
- Medical supply chain
- Postal and shipping services
- The judicial system
Need a COVID vaccine in NJ?: This list tells you which sites have appointments available
The Health Department is still working out the logistics of how and where they will be giving the vaccine to the newly eligible, especially teachers. Murphy said he wanted a system that would not disrupt the school day.
Getting the vast majority of teachers and other staff vaccinated is key to having in-classroom learning statewide by the next school year.
"We fully expect, assuming things go in the direction they're going, that we will be in-person for school in September," Murphy said. "I will be very surprised and disappointed if we're not."
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Only 13% of New Jersey's schools had completely reopened as of last week, with 20% at full remote learning and 65% running a hybrid model.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Murphy said the J&J vaccine "gives us a lot of flexibility," with 73,600 doses coming to New Jersey on Wednesday, and he suggested that most of those doses would go to "underserved, overwhelmingly Black and brown communities."
This is the first new wave of New Jerseyans eligible for the vaccine since mid-January, when Murphy expanded eligibility to 4 million in one day, including anyone 65 and older, those with chronic medical conditions and smokers.
That overwhelmed a system that had been providing vaccines only for health care workers, police and firefighters. The demand was so great — 4 million vying for 100,000 to 240,000 shots a week — that some providers had to immediately stop taking appointments.
"God willing, this is going to be phased in in a way that is both responsible and manageable for the systems," Murphy said Monday.
But some seniors said vaccinations should be close to completion for one group before moving on to another. Bernadette North, 66, of Sussex County said Monday that she and her husband have tried almost a dozen providers for weeks, to no avail.
"If teachers were being taken care of first and that's why we've had to wait, we wouldn't mind," she said. "But that's not the case."
Murphy was under pressure to include New Jersey teachers, whose largest union — the New Jersey Education Association — is one of the governor's biggest allies and campaign contributors. Schools employ about 146,000 certified staff and 80,000 non-certified staff.
"No institution in our state directly connects to more individuals than our public schools," NJEA President Marie Blistan said in a statement. "The sooner educators are vaccinated, the sooner our entire state is safer."
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NJ Transit doesn't have as large a workforce as teachers, but hundreds of its 12,000 workers have been infected each week, although rates have been declining. At least 20 workers have died from COVID-19.
About 691,000 New Jerseyans had been fully vaccinated with two doses as of Monday. About 1.3 million had received their first shot. Murphy's goal is to have 4.7 million New Jerseyans — 70% of the adult population — vaccinated by July 4th.
Many New Jerseyans, especially senior citizens, continue to find it extremely difficult to get a vaccine appointment. Some spend hours online refreshing websites in the hope that a new appointment will pop up. A Facebook group was formed with volunteers helping the elderly to navigate the mostly online appointment portals.
A call center used by many seniors without computer access stopped booking appointments last month when staff had to be retrained because they made too many mistakes.
Persichilli said 80 operators have now been trained to make appointments and will contact those 75 years and older to book appointments.
"We need a little extra push here, and that's what we're going to do," Murphy said, citing the lack of computer literacy and online access in that age group.
In addition to the 73,000 J&J vaccine doses the state will receive this week, CVS and Rite Aid will receive 22,500 doses as early as this week through a federal program.
Murphy said he expects to open more vaccine sites. There are about 300 active sites out of more than 1,700 that have been pre-approved.
Bernadette North hopes that's the case.
She has signed up with the state, Sussex County the Morris County mega-site and Hackensack Meridian. She checks the Walgreens, CVS, and ShopRite websites many times a day. She even tried the Atlantic City mega-site.
"I signed in five minutes before the designated time and was told there were 80,000+ people ahead of me for 3,500 appointments," she said.
On Monday afternoon, she and her husband received emails from the county saying they could schedule an appointment. But they were both busy.
"We didn’t see the emails until an hour later, when the county notified us that all appointments were booked," she said.
Staff Writers Dustin Racioppi and Colleen Wilson contributed to this story.
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.