TRENTON, NJ — Residents can now access a new coronavirus vaccine hotline with 250 New Jersey-based staff members currently on hand to answer common questions, help connect people to centers providing shots and clear up eligibility rules.

More than 17,000 people called in within the first hour - a number that would swell to 58,000 by noon - but just 500 were able to secure a date and time for their inoculation.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday afternoon that he was encouraged by the number of people seeking resources but a dose shortage continues to hamper state efforts.

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“The anti-vax concern that we all had going into this feels like it is fading down rapidly and that's very good news,” Murphy said during the coronavirus press briefing in Trenton. “The question is not just when do you get to 4.7 million adults? The question is CAN you get to 4.7 million? I still think we get there in the six-month window, but it's going to be more middle- and back-filled because of a lack of supply through the federal channel.”

You can access the state's hotline at 855-568-0545 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. The call center - staffed with both English and Spanish-speakers - is able to handle over 240 different languages, health officials pointed out.

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said it would be worth considering adding a second hotline to deal with residents looking to get their second dose.

“I have heard from many individuals over the weekend…about 30 emails [were sent] in relation to Gloucester, Rowan, and Monroe, and a couple of other sites that did not make the [second] appointments. We will follow up on every single one of them… We have to make sure that they have their appointments to get their second dose and that is the best practice. Get your second dose appointment before you leave after getting your first dose.”

When asked by a reporter why are the second appointments not mandated, Persichilli and Murphy said it was the case. Emails were sent to the sites reiterating guidelines that require sites set up a second shot, which can be between 21 and 28 days depending on whether you get a Pfizer vaccine or a Moderna vaccine.


Walmart gets involved

“We've negotiated with Walmart, and they are working with the state to vaccinate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in our thousands of group homes,” Persichilli said.

Since it is specifically working to provide vaccine access to this population, the centers are currently closed to the general public. 

CVS and Walgreens, entrusted with vaccinating seniors in the state, have drawn criticism from the governor for not working quicker. Still, Persichilli said more pharmacy chains are expected to get on board with the New Jersey Health Department in the coming weeks and months as vaccine doses become more available.

“Additional vaccine manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson will likely be approved in the coming weeks - adding to our vaccine supply,” she said. “We urge everyone to be patient. Other states are having similar vaccine shortage issues. This is a huge undertaking not only in New Jersey but across our nation… Unlike anything we have done before.”

“The President has talked about FEMA setting up 100 locations around the country. We welcome that but please, we’ve said please bring doses…just more locations right now is just is not…our constraint. That's not our shortage right now. It's doses,” Murphy said toward the end of the briefing.

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