Lindy Washburn, NorthJersey.com
Vaccines to protect against COVID-19 have started to arrive in New Jersey in limited quantities.
The first recipients have been hospitals and health care systems.
Nursing homes will be next, with CVS and Walgreens expected to start vaccinating nursing home staff and residents during the week of Dec. 28. This first phase of vaccination — for Priority Group 1A — likely will last through February, according to state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.
The timing of the state’s progress through subsequent phases — 1B, 1C, 2 and 3 — depends on the supply of vaccines to New Jersey. Everyone needs two shots. For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the shots are spaced three weeks apart. For the Moderna vaccine, they are spaced four weeks apart. If you start with one company’s vaccine, you can’t switch to the other. They are not interchangeable.
Here are answers to questions readers have submitted to NorthJersey.com and The Record, based on current information.
Who gets COVID vaccine first in NJ? When will the COVID vaccine be distributed?
It depends on what priority group you are in. Gov. Phil Murphy has said that anyone who wants to get a vaccine should be able to get it by late April or May.
The details about timing and the criteria for inclusion in each group become less detailed after the first group targeted for vaccination. Based on current projections, these are the groups and when they are expected to have access to the vaccine:
Through January: Health care workers, residents of long-term-care facilities and everyone who works in long-term-care facilities (Group 1A). In New Jersey, that includes an estimated 600,000 health care workers and 45,000 residents of long-term-care. Health care workers not only include hospital staffs, but also home health aides, pharmacy workers, emergency medical service workers and those who work in out-patient clinics, according to CDC guidelines. State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has said the state will follow CDC guidelines.
The initial distribution of up to 76,050 doses falls short of that number, however. Hospitals have said staff who are directly exposed to patients with COVID-19 or to members of the public who are potentially infected (for example, an emergency department clerk) will be first in line.
More shipments will follow, and starting on Dec. 28, long-term-care facilities will begin to receive the vaccine.
The state will open six mega-sites in mid-January for health care workers who are not associated with hospitals to receive the vaccine. It will communicate information about how to make an appointment in the coming weeks. See below for locations.
From mid-January through February: Essential workers, including teachers and others in the educational sector; police, firefighters, corrections officers; food and agriculture workers; and those in the transportation industry. Specific priorities within this group, known as 1B, have not been spelled out yet. They will be determined by the Department of Health’s professional advisory committee, based on guidance from the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
February and March: Those aged 65 and older, and adults with high-risk medical conditions. End of March, April and May: Anyone not in the above categories.
How can I sign up to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
The state has promised a ”statewide scheduling and consumer navigation system” within a month, when hospitals are to begin offering vaccines to priority groups beyond their own employees and volunteers. Details are to come, Persichilli said in a directive to hospitals on Dec.10.
This online registration portal will enable residents of New Jersey to register and schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine at clinics in their area when the vaccine becomes available. Initially it will be open to people in the priority groups, followed by the general public.
What health care jobs are in group 1A?
According to the state vaccination plan, this category includes the staff of hospitals, long-term care facilities, and veterans’ homes; home care workers; ambulatory and urgent care clinic workers; dialysis center workers; dental office workers; morticians and funeral home workers; pharmacy workers; workers at other non-hospital health care facilities; public health workers (for example, at community health centers and clinics); group home workers; emergency medical service personnel, and other paid and unpaid licensed and unlicensed health care workers.
I’m a health professional who doesn’t work in a hospital. How do I get the vaccine?
Dentists, dental hygienists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and other non-hospital health care workers “will soon have the opportunity to register” on the state-operated website to schedule vaccination at sites around the state, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
Information about the registration site and the location and hours of operation of the non-hospital vaccination sites will be distributed by the department, and is expected to come this week, she said. Some vaccination sites may offer walk-up/on-site registration as well.
Where can health care workers get the vaccine if they don’t work at a hospital?
Six “mega-sites” around the state are to begin operating in mid-January. They are:
The Atlantic City Convention Center
The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford
The Moorestown Mall (former Lord & Taylor store) in Burlington County
Rowan College South Jersey in Sewell, Gloucester County
The New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison, Middlesex County
The Rockaway Townsquare Mall (former Sears store) in Morris County
In addition, a network of more than 200 smaller sites is also being developed. It will include some county and local health departments, community health centers, retail pharmacies, primary care practices and urgent-care centers.
What long-term care residents are included in group 1A?
This category includes residents of long-term care facilities: veterans’ homes, correctional facilities such as prisons, juvenile centers and county jails; group homes for the intellectually and developmentally disabled; mental-health group homes; psychiatric hospitals and other long-term care settings.
What jobs are considered ‘essential workers’ and part of group 1B?
Essential workers — Priority Group 1B — will get the vaccine after health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. A state advisory group is working on specific recommendations for this group. According to the state vaccine plan, it includes first responders such as police and firefighters. Also in this category are food service workers, Port Authority workers, New Jersey Transit workers, teachers, school staff, and child care workers, and workers who support radio, print, internet and television news and media services.
I’m a medically vulnerable person. When do I get the vaccine?
People in treatment for cancer or on dialysis, for example, are considered part of Group 1C and will be vaccinated after health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and other essential workers. Unfortunately, the supply is not yet sufficient for this group. By the time supplies arrive, the state registration site will be running and hundreds of vaccination sites should be available.
According to the state vaccination plan, this group includes people of all ages with diseases or underlying conditions that put them at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The plan gives examples such as hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, immuno-compromised conditions and sickle cell disease.
I’m over age 65 – when do I get the COVID-19 vaccine and how can I sign up?
Those aged 65 and older are also considered part of Group 1C. Vaccination of Group 1A is currently underway and expected to last through February. It will be followed by Group 1B, and then it will be your turn. As stated above, a state-run website is to be available soon for registration.
What about ‘snowbirds’?
New Jersey’s vaccination program serves all who live, work or study in the state, Persichilli said. Snowbirds should check with Florida’s vaccination program or any other jurisdiction if they want to get vaccinated outside of New Jersey.
I’ve had COVID-19. Should I still get vaccinated?
The state is following federal Centers for Disease Control recommendations, which say that vaccines should be offered to people regardless of whether they have had a symptomatic or asymptomatic infections with the coronavirus. If a person qualifies as a member of Priority Group 1A, they can get vaccinated.
If a person is currently infected with COVID-19, however, the guidelines recommend that the vaccination be delayed until they have recovered from the acute illness (if they have symptoms) or no longer need to be isolated. Evidence suggests that people are not reinfected within three months, so those who have had COVID-19 may want to delay their vaccination until the end of that period.
I have allergies or asthma. Should I get the COVID vaccine?
The only people the CDC advises not to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are those with a “history of severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) to any component of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.”
The CDC is investigating reports of a handful of severe allergic reactions that have been reported after mass vaccination of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine started in the United Kingdom and the United States. The agency published “interim clinical considerations” for giving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 12. Every vaccination site must be prepared to treat an anaphylactic reaction if it occurs.
For those with a history of severe allergic reaction to another vaccine or injectable therapy, the CDC advises precautions. The precautions may include deferring vaccination or an observation period of 30 minutes (as opposed to the normal 15 minutes) after the vaccine is administered. All vaccination sites must be prepared to handle a severe allergic reaction.
Those with asthma should get the vaccine, since asthma is a risk factor for severe illness if one is infected with COVID.
For everyone else with common allergies, the CDC says they may proceed with vaccination. That includes people with:
History of food, pet, insect, venom, environmental, latex, or other allergies not related to vaccines or injectable therapies
History of allergy to oral medications
Non-serious allergy to vaccines or other injectables (e.g., no anaphylaxis)
Family history of anaphylaxis
Any other history of anaphylaxis that is not related to a vaccine or injectable therapy
I’m pregnant. Should I get the COVID vaccine?
Guidance published on Dec. 12 by the CDC says: “If pregnant people are part of a group that is recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (e.g., health care personnel), they may choose to be vaccinated.” You may want to discuss it with your clinical team, but that’s not a requirement.
Here’s further advice from the CDC: “When making a decision, pregnant people and their health care providers should consider the level of COVID-19 community transmission, the patient’s personal risk of contracting COVID-19, the risks of COVID-19 to the patient and potential risks to the fetus, the efficacy of the vaccine, the side effects of the vaccine and the lack of data about the vaccine during pregnancy.”
There’s no safety data yet on any of the COVID vaccines in pregnant people, but “based on current knowledge,” experts don’t think the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines are likely to pose a risk to people who are pregnant. The CDC recommends acetaminophen to treat a fever or other side effects of the vaccine in pregnant people. #
This story was written and produced by NorthJersey.com. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement coordinated by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. To read more, visit NorthJersey.com.