2020 will be remembered as the year that challenged and tested all of us in many ways. So many people couldn't see their loved ones, spent days in isolation, or tragically lost a friend or family member. Most importantly, we came together to fight the virus as one. This past year has strained us, but the fight is not over. As our front-line and public health professionals are giving it their all in round two of the battle against COVID-19, the arrival of a vaccine is the most welcome news.

During the pandemic, in Mercer County we have administered more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests to our residents. There were bumps along the way, but no resident who wanted a test was turned away from a Mercer County site, and that is a great success. While we have not fully shifted gears away from testing, the vaccination plan is beginning to take shape.

In concert with the Mercer County Health Officers Association, our municipalities, and our health care providers, we are following the outline as set forth by the State Department of Health, which also determines to whom the vaccines will be distributed in the most fair and equitable manner. At this early stage of the vaccination program, a very small number of doses have been made available to our towns and have been or will be distributed to health care workers, hospitals and long-term care residents and staff. You can learn more about the vaccine plan at https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/vaccine.

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Once our health care workers and local EMS providers are vaccinated, a determination at the state level will be made to move to the next priority group, 1B, currently set to comprise front-line essential workers and individuals over 75.

When more vaccine is available, Mercer County and our partners will stand up a larger, regional site for our residents at one or more locations to be announced, and we vow to reach our most vulnerable and marginalized communities by empowering our community leaders to be the bridge.

We all can agree that 2020 was a year of challenges that continue as we head into the New Year. Once again, we must harness our strengths to keep going. As you make your New Year’s resolutions, I ask that safety be a priority as each of us has a personal responsibility to do the right thing so we can keep ourselves and those around us healthy. Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, prosperous 2021!