NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Shipments of frozen COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive at six Garden State hospitals - including Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital - in the days to come.
While preliminary, it will mark a major step on the state’s road to inoculating 70% of the adult population, 4.7 million people, in six months.
"Several NJ hospitals are pre-positioning to receive the first shipments of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. We anticipate that this first distribution will include roughly 76,000 doses," Gov. Phil Murphy said during an update Friday.
“When we talk about light at the end of the tunnel, this is real. And so what we need right now is we need a bridge from today until that better day, which is not that far forward,” he shared earlier in the week.
So far, more than 350,000 people in the state have contracted COVID-19 out of 6.2 million tests administered since the first reported case in March. Over 15,400 people have died from the virus and more than 1,800 fatalities are listed as "probable" deaths on the health department dashboard.
The other five hospitals, which have subzero freezers able to properly store the vaccines, include Cooper University Health in Camden, University Hospital in Newark, Hackensack University Medical Center, Morristown Medical Center and AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City.
The New Jersey Department of Health is currently outlining a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, simultaneously ensuring New Jerseyans that it is safe and secure to take. Murphy said the public will likely have access to a vaccine by April or May, with nursing homes and frontline/healthcare workers given priority.
The six New Jersey hospitals won’t be using the vaccines just yet. First the FDA must issue an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), which Pfizer is looking to have approved by Dec. 10 and Moderna by Dec. 17.
Both vaccines have efficacy rates at about 95%, compared with the CDC rates the flu vaccines efficacy at nearly 52% as of this year. In order to work properly, Pfizer’s must be issued twice three weeks apart, and Moderna’s twice four weeks apart.
“[We're] talking about a safe vaccine that has a 90-something percent hit rate…not one but two of them beginning to have availability this month and then that rolls out in waves in the next number of months,” Murphy said.
A spokesperson for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital declined to comment.
The governor and other officials have said during recent COVID-19 press briefings that New Jersey will be sent 260,000 doses in two batches of 130,000 around the midway point of this month.
As part of the plan presented to the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Tuesday, officials announced that nursing homes will receive vaccines through CVS and Walgreens.
Dr. Nancy Messonier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control, told the advisory panel that the majority of states expect to vaccinate their entire roster of health care workers in three weeks time.
By the end of January 2021, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli has previously said New Jersey anticipates receiving 1.1 million doses a month.
“It is very important that residents who are eligible get the vaccine,” said Donna Nickitas, Dean of the Rutgers University School of Nursing. “We must inform and educate the public about the vaccine. This massive public awareness campaign is essential if we are going to build public confidence."
Before heading the nursing program, Nickitas served as a major in the United States Air Force Nurse Corps with three years' active-duty service and 15 years' reserve. That included experience as a flight nurse with the 69th Air Evacuation Squadron.
With a class of dedicated nursing students, including 20 veterans, the school plans to participate in a statewide initiative to create a Vaccination Corps of faculty, student, and alumni - working to lend a hand to county and local hospitals based on their needs.
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