TRENTON, NJ -- Gov. Phil Murphy and the NJ Department of Health are taking heat for putting smokers in the 1B category for people registering to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
On Wednesday, the governor announced that all residents over age 65, not just those in long-term care facilities, would be the next in line to get the vaccine, along with people who have conditions that compromise their health, including cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart ailments.
"Expanding vaccine access to those 65 and older and those between 16 and 65 years of age with chronic conditions will help us protect the most vulnerable amongst us," said NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. "Individuals... with the following conditions are eligible: cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, Down’s syndrome, heart conditions for example heart failure, coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathies, obesity and severe obesity, sickle cell disease, type two diabetes, and the largest group, smokers."
"Smoking puts you at significant risk for an adverse result from COVID-19, and there are 2 million smokers in New Jersey that fit into this category," Persichilli added.
Shortly after the announcement was made, it ignited debate, particularly on social media. Among them were former Scotch Plains Councilman Andrew Bondarowicz @AndyBEsq: So if you voluntarily choose to smoke it allows you to get to the front of the vaccine line in NJ. #NJLogic. Others tweeted directly at the governor:
- @jamienewk Replying to @GovMurphy: Unbelievable that we favor smokers
- @WBrandt21 Replying to @GovMurphy: You’re taking away shots from seniors for 20 year old smokers. WTF is wrong with you?
- @czechowhat Replying to @GovMurphy: Well, looks like it’s time to start smoking.
- @MarcHazelton Replying to @GovMurphy: Smoking.... smoking is a medical condition.
NJ Health Department officials responded to the backlash with a written statement on Thursday.
"Nicotine is one of the most powerful addictions. Smoking put individuals at higher risk for more severe disease. If an individual who smokes gets COVID, they get sicker much quicker," NJ Department of Health Director of Communications Donna Leusner said in a widely reported statement Thursday.
"Our goal is to save as many lives as possible and to promote vaccination among the highest risk groups," Leusner added. "Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US as well as in NJ (except for COVID-19). We encourage anyone who smokes to quit, and to seek support through our Quitline."
Nonetheless, New Jerseyans -- particularly on Twitter -- are fuming about smokers getting priority for vaccinations over others, including teachers and asthmatics.