SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ – The Sussex County Fairgrounds is open for vaccinations, if you can get an appointment. 

Beginning Thursday, the county opened operations to the qualified public. According to Sussex County COVID Coordinator Julia Gurriell and Bob Haffner, Director of Emergency Preparedness they are relying on volunteers to make it all work.

Community Emergency Response Team members or CERT members from Andover, Green, Hopatcong, Stillwater and Sparta together with Medical Reserve Corps or MRC volunteers are handling the intake questioning and screening outside as well as helping out with operations inside the Richards buildings where the inoculations are administered. 

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“They are freezing out here and inside, volunteering their time to help,” Gurriell said.  The volunteers currently work five-hour shifts. For now the Sussex site is only open from 8 a.m. until noon though they hope to expand hours as the vaccine becomes more readily available according to Gurriell.

Volunteers do get vaccinated in exchange for their service.  The volunteers get “short incident command training online and ‘Just in Time’ training prior to working,” according to Gurriell. 

Disaster Response Crisis Counselors or DRCC volunteers are also working on site, Haffner said.  They are currently filling operational positions but will also “assist as needed,” for people needing a counselor.

According to volunteers outside the Richards building, people coming for their shots are “up beat,” “positive” and “happy to be here.”  The volunteers on site Friday contributed to that positive mood with ready smiles and helpful demeanor despite standing in out a chilly rain and fog.

Sheriff's Officers are stationed at every turn to make sure people can navigate through the maze of the fairground.

In addition to having an appointment, each person must bring their completed Sussex County COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Consent form.   People remain in their cars to receive the vaccination.

The trouble is, for now, there does not seem to be enough vaccine to meet the demand. The COVID-19 section of the Sussex County website indicates there are no appointments available at the fairground for next week.  

They will not be able to schedule appointments for the following week until they know how many doses they will be receiving, according to Gurriell.  The county website encourages people to check the website for updates on availability. It is a week-to-week situation.

“You just have to check every day, a few times a day,” one of the CERT members advised a person who came to the fairgrounds without an appointment.

This week the county had the Moderna vaccine.  They are not sure what they will be getting in the future but will be posting that information on their website as it becomes available, according to Gurriell.

Moderna is recommended for people 18-years-old and older.  The Pfizer vaccine is available to people 16-years-old.  The issue arises when it comes to getting the second dose. It has to be the same manufacturer as the first dose, Haffner said. 

Moderna requires a 28-day waiting period between doses. For Pfizer it is 21 days.

The state began inoculating health care workers and people living and working in Long Term Care facilities- Phase 1A, at the end of December.  This group was estimated to include 650,000 people by the New Jersey Department of Health of NJ DOH.

On Tuesday, in response to a change in Center for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC recommendations, New Jersey expanded Phase 1A to include people over the age of 65 and people 16-64 with underlying documented medical conditions who were previously categorized Phase1B.

The conditions that qualify people for the vaccine in Phase 1A include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down Syndrome, heart conditions, obesity, sickle cell disease, smoking and Type 2 diabetes, according to the NJ DOH.

Phase 1B includes first responders, educators and media though the complete definition is yet to be decided, according to the NJ DOH.

As of Friday, January 15, according to the NJ DOH COVID-19 dashboard, a total of 310,595 doses have been administered: 273,335 first doses and 37,079 second doses.  In Sussex County 5,248 doses have been given. 

State run “Megasites” are located at Rockaway Townsquare Mall, the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison and Moorestown Mall – Lord and Taylor in Burlington County.  Vaccinations are also being administered at ShopRite in several locations including Newton, Byram, Morristown and West Milford.

Atlantic Health System is working with the County of Morris and NJ DOH to provide vaccine services.  Appointments can be made through their website for Rockaway Mall, Mountain Lakes, Pompton Plains and Clark locations.  Appointment alerts are also available, notifying people when appointments become available.

People can pre-register for the vaccine on the NJ DOH site.  

Anyone interested in volunteering through the federal MRC program can apply online.  "We always need more volunteers," Gurriell said.


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