NEW JERSEY — The constant flux of updates surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccine has led some New Jersey residents feeling overwhelmed with information or confused over what’s accurate.
NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli on Monday sought to clarify a number of major coronavirus-related points or inquiries frequently sent the state’s way.
Firstly, she noted in Gov. Phil Murphy’s afternoon COVID-19 press briefing that vaccines are free and available to people regardless of their documentation or insurance status.
“You do have to live, work or study in New Jersey to be eligible,” she said.
Murphy also added that it remains unclear how often residents need to get vaccinated.
“The question I get asked, ‘Are we going to have to go through this whole thing again next year?’ The answer is no one knows,” Murphy shared. “If Tony Fauci, [the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] were sitting between us, he would say the same thing.”
Persichilli provided the following responses to common questions:
Can the vaccine give you COVID-19?
The vaccines cannot cause infection with COVID-19. In fact, the two vaccines that we are currently administering cannot infect you at all. The current vaccines do not contain any live virus or attenuated virus.
Will the vaccines work against the new variants?
In most cases, yes, they have been found to be very good at stopping severe illness, hospitalization and death. However, Oxford University said over the weekend that early data from a small study suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not authorized in the United States yet, offers only minimal protection against the mild disease caused by the South African variant. The lead researcher for that vaccine manufacturer said on Sunday that they expect by fall to have a modified vaccine to deal with the South African variant.
Should pregnant women get vaccinated?
The CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend that women talk to their health care provider about whether they should get vaccinated. When making a decision, pregnant women and their health care providers should consider the level of COVID-19 community transmission. They should also consider the patient's personal risk of contracting COVID-19 and the risks of COVID-19 not only to the woman, but the potential risk to the fetus and additional considerations or the efficacy of the vaccine and the side effects of the vaccine based on current knowledge. Experts believe that the mRNA vaccines - which are the Pfizer and the Madonna - are unlikely to pose a risk to pregnant women or their fetus. However, the potential risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and the fetus are unknown, because these vaccines really have not been studied in pregnant women.
Are the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines interchangeable?
The COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable with each other, or with other COVID-19 vaccine products. The safety and efficacy of a mixed product series has not been evaluated. Both doses of the series should be completed with the same product.
Why aren’t there more vaccines available?
It takes time to produce vaccines and the production capacity of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is increasing slowly. It's great news that we are closer to having an additional vaccine to protect the state. Now that Johnson & Johnson submitted its application to the FDA on Thursday night, the FDA is scheduled to review the vaccine candidates clinical trial data on Feb. 26. Johnson & Johnson hopes to provide the federal government with 100 million doses by April. The J&J vaccine is only one shot and doesn't require ultra-cold storage.
What are the advantages of that vaccine?
There is an advantage of only having to need one shot. It will be more mobile, the vaccine will travel better. In fact, it will travel so well it would be easier to deploy the vaccine closer to where individuals live.
If I get vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask or face covering?
Yes, you will still need to wear a mask and follow all safeguarding methods until enough individuals are vaccinated to produce community protection. We know that the vaccine keeps you from getting sick, but we don't know yet if the vaccine prevents a person from contracting the virus and then spreading the virus.
When will there be more visitation at long-term care facilities?
We are still concerned that our long-term care facilities are still experiencing outbreaks. In fact, there are 417 active outbreaks as we sit here today. According to the Centers for Medicare Medicaid services visitation is tied to the levels of spread in the community. The department has released a directive on the phased-in reopening of facilities that is based on the outbreak status of the facility, its ability to meet criteria including but not limited to testing of staff and residents, infection control protocols, adequate staffing and personal protective equipment. And it's tied to the timing of the state reopening plans.
However, end-of-life visits, compassionate care visits, and essential caregiver visits continue.
We hope as more people get vaccinated, the spread of the virus in the community will lessen and that it will also lessen in our facilities. It is also vital that health care workers in long-term care facilities also get vaccinated, as we know this is one way that the virus enters these facilities. In time, safe visitation will be restored.