NEWARK, NJ — After Essex County resident, Luis Torres, suffered the loss of several people close to him in just a short span of time due to COVID-19, he made sure he was on the list of 250 registered recipients when Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine rolled into the Branch Brook Park Cherry Blossom Welcome Center in Newark on Saturday morning. 

With the death of both his best friend, Delfin Sanchez, and his sister-in-law, Carmen Torres, in May, and then his nephew, Cristion Vaca, in August, Torres said that he was sweating to get the vaccine after having registered for multiple sites, but subsequently met with no success when told that doses ran out. 

“This is it. This is my turn,” he said. “There are no words to describe this. After the shot, mentally, you feel better because you don’t have that worry in your mind that you are going to get [COVID]. Now, it’s a different ballgame.” 

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The J&J single-dose shot comes at a critical time, particularly, for Newark’s senior residents and underserved communities with already limited access to the vaccine. As of March 6, Newark has 31,422 confirmed positive cases and 884 COVID-related deaths. 

In an effort to roll out vaccines to the city’s minority communities and help ensure trust in the vaccine's safety, county officials announced in February the formation of a partnership with local religious leaders to springboard this effort. 

Partnering with county officials, state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., council vice president Luis Quintana and council member-at-large Carlos Gonzalez gathered at the Branch Brook Park site to carry out the effort in getting residents vaccinated. 

“When the county executive approached me about hosting this mobile vaccination site, I was truly excited,” Ramos told TAPinto Newark. “It gave us a unique opportunity to expand our vaccination efforts in the North, which has been focused primarily on getting our seniors access in their senior buildings. Today represents another step in the right direction as we encourage Newark residents to take advantage of the vaccination programs available to them.” 

The North Ward councilman has already been a pivotal mover to get doses to the city’s elder population. Working in conjunction with Saint James Health Center CEO Nicole Fields, the facility’s staff have reached various senior buildings in the ward with more than 1,000-plus first doses administered and 50-plus second doses administered. 

In addition to the city’s efforts to assist the Saint James staff, Ramos helped facilitate a partnership between the Ballantyne House and Saint James to expand it to other facilities in his ward. 

In order to serve and ensure equitable access to the vaccine for the city’s minority communities, Ruiz explained that as Deputy Chief of Staff for Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., bringing clinics directly to those neighborhoods has become a priority.

“It’s been an extraordinary effort to be part of the development of the whole vaccination program,” Ruiz said.  “What we have been seeing is that all of our vaccine sites have been working, beautifully. But the communities that were most impacted by COVID-19 have been underrepresented in the vaccine rollout."

In an effort to connect our Black and Latinx families, Ruiz said the County Executive launched several initiatives to break down barriers.

"Since the beginning, all eligible Newark residents have been able to register at all the county's sites," Ruiz said. "We created a senior transportation program and rolled out a mail and social media campaign in different languages. Working with our partners, today is the latest effort to make the vaccine accessible to people closer to home."

Throughout the county, more than 86,000 first-dose vaccines have already been administered and approximately 45,000 second-doses have been administered, according to DiVincenzo Jr. 

With clinics up-and-running as early as December 2020, Essex was among the first regions in the state to open vaccination sites. 

As local officials continue to carry out vaccination efforts, the county executive explained that bringing clinics into the heart of impacted neighborhoods will be a major focus. 

“We want [residents] to come to our sites, but if they can’t, we are going to come to their backyard,” he said. “We want to make it as easy as possible for the people to come out and to get vaccinated.”

Essex County is operating five vaccination centers. The locations and the municipalities served at each site are as follows:

  • Essex County College, 303 University Ave., Newark (Gym entrance on West Market Street): Newark, Belleville, East Orange, Irvington and Orange.
  • Essex County Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology, 498-544 West Market Street, Newark: Newark, East Orange, Irvington and Orange. (This site will open in January 2021)
  • Former Kmart building, 235 Prospect Ave., West Orange: West Orange, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Montclair, Newark, Nutley and Verona.
  • Livingston Mall, former Sears building, 112 Eisenhower Parkway, Livingston (Entrance is in the back): Livingston, Belleville, Maplewood, Millburn, Newark, Orange and South Orange.
  • Essex County West Caldwell School of Technology, 620 Passaic Ave., West Caldwell: West Caldwell, Bloomfield, Caldwell, Fairfield, Glen Ridge, Newark, North Caldwell and Roseland.
  • Residents of Newark will be able to make an appointment at any of the five sites because of the size of the city’s population.

Residents can make appointments at www.EssexCOVID.org or by calling 973-877-8456.