NEWARK, NJ – When Gov. Phil Murphy announced last week the launch of the New Jersey Institute of Technology vaccination site in Newark, it was originally planned to deploy 6,000 doses per day.
On opening day, the site surpassed that mark with nearly 6,200 doses administered.
“They will be pounding [doses] away,” Murphy said during a press conference outside the facility. “This thing is the gorilla.”
The site, located at NJIT's Naimoli Center on Lock Street, is working in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is currently the state’s largest vaccination center.
With hundreds of area residents wrapped around the block waiting to receive their vaccine on Wednesday, the center comes to the city of Newark at a crucial moment as it continues to fight some of the state’s highest number of positive COVID cases and deaths.
As of March 31, Essex County officials reported that Newark has 34,613 confirmed positive cases and 910 COVID-19 related deaths.
With a recent uptick throughout the state in cases and deaths alongside the spread of new COVID variants, the governor noted that mega vaccination sites like Newark’s could help combat these numbers. It could also eventually create a pathway to reopening the state.
“I’m not happy, but we kind of expected this,” he said. “The variants are in our state. They’re in the densest region in America… We’re watching them like a hawk. It’s part of the reason why we are being very methodical in how we reopen the state.”
On Tuesday, the governor changed the threshold for venues to be considered “large venues," lowering the range to 2,500-5,000 people, effective April 2.
He also increased the capacity for indoor seating at these types of venues to 20% and the capacity for outdoor seating at the same venues has been increased to 30%. The general outdoor gathering limit increased to 200 people, and the general indoor gathering limit will remain at 25 people.
Although the introduction of a mega-site could be seen as a positive for urban cities like Newark to reach its massive population, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka mayor explained that it still has to overcome the hurdle of accessibility for residents.
“These mega centers don’t necessarily work in our community like they work in other people’s communities,” the mayor said. “Getting access to smaller sites like schools, churches and other things that we have been doing - I think that’s been more effective.”
Among several efforts city officials have enacted to ramp up vaccine accessibility for residents thus far have included the introduction of mobile pop up clinics, the recent launch of an equitable vaccine initiative headed by community leaders, expanding sites for local educators and partnering with local religious leaders to promote the safety of the vaccine.
As Newark’s newly launched mega-site aims to roll out thousands of vaccines per day, Baraka said he is committed to ensuring residents get the resources they need to get the vaccine whether it be at NJIT or in their backyard.
“We are grateful that we have this huge [site] here now, and we are working to get our people in here every day,” he said. “This is extremely helpful because it’s 6,000 people a day… We just have to work extra hard to get our people over here whether we have to Uber them over here, taxi or drive them over here.”