For many, a potential COVID-19 vaccine has marked the finish line of the long nightmare being lived by so many since March. With President Donald Trump promising a vaccine by the end of the year, many have wondered how likely these promises are. Gov. Phil Murphy again took to Facebook Live on Monday afternoon to announce the state’s official plan for an equitable rollout of any potential vaccine.
“Ten days ago, on Oct. 16, the Department of Health submitted to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) the state’s first-draft COVID-19 state vaccination plan,” he said. “However, this is not a plan that was thrown together quickly as some vaccinations have entered their final testing phase. Indeed, it is a product of months of collaboration.”
Murphy continued to lay out the plan, saying it aims to provide equitable access to a vaccine, achieve maximum community protection and build public trust. In an ideal scenario, the state hopes to successfully vaccinate more than two-thirds of adults.
“We want to build public trust in not just a COVID-19 vaccine, but the vaccines that protect residents from other potentially debilitating and deadly illnesses,” Murphy explained. “When we meet these aims, we will meet our initial goal of vaccinating 70% of the state’s eligible adult population.”
The goal of making any potential vaccines available equitably is one that Murphy had preached in his briefings since the beginning of pandemic.
“We are keenly aware that COVID-19 has highlighted the stark disparities that emerged across communities when it comes to vulnerability,” he said. “We will work to quickly move across population segments and deliver vaccines into the communities that were hardest hit, not just those that are easiest to reach.”
While this concrete plan may seem sudden to many, it is the result of careful planning, the administration noted. In March, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli convened the New Jersey Department of Health COVID-19 Professional Advisory Committee. In April, it began planning distribution. In July, another group, the Vaccine Task Force, was formed and comprised a panel of state experts that began working with the committee.
Despite the governor’s optimism on the plan, Murphy did note that its formation was not easy, as there were many obstacles facing any future vaccination.
“With the CDC and the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the goal was to focus on the hurdles and challenges that would face any vaccine,” Murphy said. “Logistics in distribution, prioritization, vaccination, public outreach and confidence building, among many other issues.”
However, the Governor’s Office is confident about New Jersey’s ability to get it done under the current plan and laid out the proposed rollout of vaccinations once they become available. Phase 1 will be for essential workers like health care professionals who are at a daily risk for direct exposure and any citizen at a higher risk for COVID-19. Phase 2 will provide for additional essential workers, while phase 3 will bring the remaining vaccines to the public.
Murphy continued to warn against the vaccination conspiracy theories that run rampant on social media. His plan to quell these theories is to make any vaccination information released easy to understand for all residents, allowing no wiggle room for conspiracies.
“We will also work closely with health care providers and key community influencers to ensure that information is put out in clear and precise language,” he said. “We cannot let the online rumors and social media-driven conspiracy theories jeopardize our ability to build statewide immunity against the deadly virus.”
The funding for this program will have to come from somewhere, as Murphy laid out exactly how the state is expected to raise the money necessary to make such a vaccination.
“The federal administration has so far indicated no interest in providing further financial assistance, whether it be to New Jersey or any other state,” he said. “The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the Association of Immunization Managers have sent a joint letter to the congressional leadership calling for an additional $8.1 billion to support a national state-based program.”
While these talks definitely can give New Jerseyans optimism on the future of an equitable vaccination, Murphy explains that the plan must remain flexible.
“Even though we have the initial plan with the CDC, it is by no means final,” he said. “We continue to refine and recalculate. It is a work in progress. We continue to think about how we can ensure greater efficiency.”
In the meantime, the governor is continuing to take steps to try and slow down the ever-rising COVID numbers in the state. He officially extended the public health emergency for an additional 30 days through the end of November. Murphy also praised the efforts of the community contact tracing corps.
“One plan that we have had in place and in motion is our community contact tracing corps, which currently includes a total of 1,906 contact tracers statewide,” he said. “That’s an average of more than 21 per 100,000 residents in each county.”
The corps and the committee putting the vaccination plan together have their work cut out for them — there were 1,223 new COVID-19 cases in the state Monday, bringing the statewide total to 229,684. Over 14,000 residents have now died from COVID-related complications.