TRENTON, NJ — New Jersey will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility later this month to millions more people including teachers, clergy, and others, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

Educators have been among the groups lobbying for higher prioritization. As of March 15, K-12 educators and school support staff will qualify for shots. Exactly how the state will allocate proper doses is still being worked out, state officials noted.

What may help is the latest emergency approval of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which Murphy called a “game changer.” The New Jersey Health Department expects to receive over 73,000 shots of the J&J vaccine by mid-week, but deliveries going forward are not known.

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During his press conference from Trenton this afternoon, the governor said he hopes schools will be fully in-person come September, but “at a minimum [fully] in a hybrid format.”

The Scotch Plains-Fanwood SPFK12 school district started the 2020-21 academic year fully remote and in 2021 expanded into the hybrid model. At the February 25, 2021, Board of Education meeting, superintendent Dr. Joan Mast announced that elementary schools will be back to five half days on March 15, 2021. Additionally, Park and Terrill Middle Schools and Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School are adding alternating Wednesdays, starting March 3, 2021. Dr. Mast also said that the district's plans for April through the end of school in June will be communicated on March 30, 2021 for all schools.

"We will continue to use the rate of transmission, the color coding by region and consult with the Department of Health as our guide," she said. "We plan to open for full time, in person school in September. We will communicate the detailed written plan on April 30, 2021."

Murphy stated: “As it pertains to educators specifically, we will work obviously with [Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli’s] team, the Department of Education, our partners at [the New Jersey Education Association], school leaders, local education stakeholders and our and our sites on means of ensuring full access without interrupting the school day.”

Out of the state’s 811 district, charter, renaissance and schools for students with disabilities as of Monday 110 are all in-person, 533 are in a hybrid format, 142 are all remote, and 27 are using a mix of the options throughout their buildings.

NJEA President Marie Blistan called Monday’s announcement a “big step.”

“The sooner educators are vaccinated, the sooner our entire state is safer,” Bilstan said in a statement. “We call on the administration to immediately extend that access to employees in higher education who are equally as exposed and equally as critical to fully reopening our state for in-person instruction," Blistan said. "At every level, New Jersey educators have worked tirelessly to educate our students and have advocated tirelessly to protect them and our communities throughout this pandemic by demanding high standards for health and safety.”

Murphy, who shared that he had not seen Bilstan’s full statement, said, “We will get to higher ed, and we will get there soon. Not everybody's covered by what we've just announced today… You get a couple of months from now we're a whole different ballgame.”

The state issued the following on additional vaccine eligibility:

Starting March 15:

  • Educators, including support staff, in pre-K through 12th grade settings
  • Childcare workers in licensed and registered settings
  • Public and local transportation workers, including bus, taxi, ride-share, and airport employees; NJ TRANSIT workers; and Motor Vehicle Commission staff
  • Public safety workers who are not sworn law enforcement or fire professionals, including probation officers and fire safety inspectors
  • Migrant farm workers
  • Members of tribal communities
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness and those living in shelters, including domestic violence shelters

Starting March 29, frontline essential workers in the following categories are also eligible for vaccination:

  • Food production, agriculture, and food distribution
  • Eldercare and support
  • Warehousing and logistics
  • Social services support staff
  • Elections personnel
  • Hospitality
  • Medical supply chain
  • Postal and shipping services
  • Clergy
  • Judicial system

Murphy said the state is working to provide additional outreach to people 75 and older. He specially made mention of putting more emphasis on helping seniors schedule appointments over the phone and increasing dose availability at mega-sites.

He also emphasized that the sites are not walk-up and those residents that do have appointment such arrive 15 minutes prior to their scheduled time.

Watch Monday's press conference below: