NEW JERSEY — New Jersey has submitted a draft of a coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gov. Phil Murphy and other state officials announced Mon., Oct. 26, during a virtual press briefing. 

While a COVID-19 vaccine or therapeutic has not yet been created, the governor said the “growing reality” is that one or more vaccines are months, versus years, away.

The first draft of the plan submitted Oct. 16, “is by no means finalized. I use the word draft deliberately…we continue to list the new unknowns we have to consider, many of which only the federal government and the vaccine clinical trials can answer,” Murphy said this afternoon. “Our strategic gains are threefold…one, to provide equitable access to a vaccine, [two] to achieve maximum community protection and three, building public trust in not just a COVID-19 vaccine, but the vaccines that can protect residents from other potentially debilitating and deadly illnesses.”

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The Garden State’s coronavirus figures continue to swell. On Monday, that included 1,223 new cases (229,684 total) and seven new deaths (14,503 total confirmed and 1,789 still awaiting further confirmation). State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli confirmed that four of those seven deaths took place in the past week, and all seven deaths took place in October. Additionally, 19 patients died in New Jersey hospitals Sunday from what is believed to be COVID-19 but require further lab tests to confirm. 

Of the new caseload, Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, Passaic and Union counties all confirmed at least 110 cases, with Hudson County confirming 75 cases of its own. The rate of transmission (Rt) has increased to 1.23, with 948 hospitalizations currently linked to the respiratory illness (178 in intensive care and 75 requiring ventilators).

“We know from public polling that there is already growing skepticism of a vaccine. And in the face of this virus, that skepticism could prove to be as deadly as the virus itself," Murphy said. "We are committed to building trust in the vaccines and all of our communities, and we will not wait until we receive the vaccines to start that process,” Murphy said.

New Jersey has nearly 2,000 contact tracers on the ground, the governor’s office announced in conjunction with the virtual briefing. Yet, during the last reporting period (Oct. 10-17), roughly 58 percent of residents did not fully cooperate. 

One reporter asked, "Considering that figure, is the state concerned over a lack of cooperation if a vaccine became available?"

“I'm frustrated by the contact tracing piece, and I'm frustrated by the general anti-[vaccine] environment, but I don't think there's a correlation,” Murphy responded.

The emergence of a vaccine would likely trigger an “emergency use authorization” via the federal government, Persichilli said Monday, thus making a limited number of vaccine doses available in the first allotment. 

“The federal government will likely provide guidance on the prioritization of the limited quantities, but it will be up to the states to determine the exact allocation of the allotment,” she added. “How much New Jersey will receive will depend on multiple factors, such as the population of essential and health care workers, current spread or prevalence of the disease and the vaccine availability. What we do not know right now is the efficacy and the adverse event profile for any potential vaccine as the trials are still going on.

"Our inspirational goal for a wide-scale vaccination program in New Jersey is to vaccinate 70 percent of the adult population in a six-month period," she said.

To meet that goal the state would have to vaccinate 81,000 residents a day, five days a week, or roughly 3,200 people a day, five days every week, in every one of the state’s 21 counties, according to Persichilli.

"The CDC guidelines stipulate that in phase one, the allotted doses will be reserved for persons serving in health care settings, who have the potential for direct exposure, or for essential workers, or for individuals at risk, including those 65 and older," Persichilli said.

Phase 2, she continued, will meet further immediate vaccine demands, and finally phase 3 will be reserved for open access to vaccinations. The governor said more information on the vaccine distributions will be made available as the process gets finalized. 

Murphy said key in New Jersey’s success of distributing a vaccine is local health departments, federally qualified health centers, hospitals, as well as medical-clinical and retail pharmacies.

He said as early as the spring the groundwork was being laid over a "workable vaccination plan" that would account for distribution, allocation, vaccination and monitoring. However, the state had to quickly shift to more immediate response efforts. 

The next New Jersey COVID-19 virtual press briefing is scheduled for Thur., Oct. 29, and will be available on Facebook. Watch Monday's press briefing below:

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