Gov Phil Murphy held a press conference last week at Rowan College of South Jersey to welcome hundreds of essential workers getting their first doses of the COVID vaccine.
“Folks showing up are really excited,” the governor said. “We are still in the context of a big supply-and-demand imbalance thanks to the lack of distribution out of (the federal government). So within that context, it is pretty exciting. I just don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver; that’s the last thing we need right now.”
The line of participants was overwhelming at what is described as a “mega center,” one of six in the state. Everyone had made an appointment and each was temperature checked upon admittance. Anyone across the state who is eligible can make an appointment at the Rowan site.
“We are currently vaccinating health care workers and our police and fire personnel,” said Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichelli. “We will continue in a phased approach to add in those most at risk for mortality and morbidity, and those who will need it to carry on essential work in New Jersey.”
According to state Senate President Steve Sweeney, the vaccination site has the capacity and manpower to distribute over 3,000 doses a day, but initially will only receive 1,000 doses a week. The Murphy administration is hopeful the federal government will begin to roll out vaccines at a faster rate in order to accommodate the 70 percent of eligible New Jerseyans eligible for the two-shot vaccinations. The governor was asked about the federal effort.
“It is frustrating … but there is a lot of credit to go around with the development of the vaccines, which is nothing short of miraculous,” Murphy said. “But the distribution is less than promised and far less than needed. I believe that will change sooner than later, and I still believe when we swing into Memorial Day, the general public will have access to the vaccines, and that is exactly what we need to get the state back open and get our economy back on its feet.”
Murphy was also asked about the importance of getting both vaccine doses.
“The evidence is pretty overwhelming that you need both,” he replied. “We want to make sure there are second doses in the tank when folks need it.”
The governor also mentioned trials by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson to develop a one-shot vaccine that can be stored at refrigerator temperature rather than the 70-degree below requirement of the Pfizer vaccine.
Murphy also discussed why some people might be hesitant about the vaccine. But despite those concerns, Persichelli said one million state residents have preregistered for the vaccine.
“I am really encouraged by the comment the health commissioner made that there are over a million people signed up to preregister: That is a really good sign.” Murphy noted.
“I think we have to balance getting the shots and (policing those who are eligible) right now … The health care workers and the fire and police, and long term care are the priority communities, but we are going to start to overlap, assuming there is satisfaction in the supply and that it is not just the first shot that is there, but the second. We are going to open this up as fast as we can.”
Washington Township Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik and 30 of his officers were among the hundreds of first responders who received their first vaccine doses at Rowan.
“It was a relief to get the vaccine shot this morning,” Gurcsik said. “I won’t mandate our officers get the vaccine. I am recommending it. I got the shot for my health and everyone’s safety. We want officers to get vaccinated at their own free will.”
Police officer and SWAT negotiator Tobey Haley also received his first dose at Rowan and is eligible to receive the second after Feb. 8.
“I was excited to get the opportunity and a little nervous about what reaction I might have,” he said. “The line moved smoothly and quickly today and I feel good. It feels a little like a flu shot: My arm is a little sore, but outside of that, I’m fine.”
The other large centers are located in Gloucester, Burlington, Atlantic, Middlesex, Morris and Bergen counties. To preregister, visit covidvaccine.nj.gov.