UNION COUNTY, NJ — As of Sunday, 1.34 million COVID-19 vaccine shots had been administered statewide through hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers, government-run clinics and state run “mega-sites,” New Jersey's COVID-19 dashboard shows.

Those shots included 984,737 first doses and 355,862 second doses, according to the state data, which shows that in Union County 66,003 shots had been administered, including 15,350 first doses and 5,393 second doses.

The state has set as its goal to get 70% of New Jersey’s eligible adults vaccinated — that is 4.7 million people — by the beginning of the summer. Here are answers to some key questions about the process.

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Who is eligible? As of Sunday, COVID-19 vaccines are available in New Jersey for the following people in New Jersey, according to the state Health Department’s guidelines:

  • Paid and unpaid healthcare workers
  • Residents and workers of long-term care and high-risk congregate care facilities
  • First responders including sworn law enforcement and fire professionals
  • Individuals aged over 65
  • Individuals aged 16-64 who have certain medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness from the virus

Learn more about eligible categories on the state Health Department’s website, here.

How do I schedule shots? Both Union County and the state Health Department offer websites where you can schedule a shot, but members of the public are advised to also try signing up on private care providers’ sites.

  • Preregister for the vaccine distributed through state of New Jersey at covidvaccine.nj.gov.
  • Schedule a vaccine with the County of Union at ucnjvaccine.org as appointments become available.
  • Atlantic Health System, which has a location in Clark, is offering the vaccine. Click here to register.
  • Check availability at CVS locations throughout New Jersey here.
  • Check availability at Rite Aid locations throughout New Jersey here.
  • ShopRites in Elizabeth and Clark are among those to offer the vaccine. Check availability and sign up at vaccines.shoprite.com.

In collaboration with the volunteer covid19vaccinestatusnj project, Planet Princeton has created a crowd-sourced version of the the state’s COVID-19 vaccine site spreadsheet showing what sites are accepting patients and what sites are scheduling appointments. It includes links to websites and contact info for individual sites, as well as advice on whether to call them.

Of the 10 sites listed in Union County, five listed a status of “not available” Sunday, while two sites run by the county itself have “check back” listed as their status. The listing for the county site at Kean University said to check back for releases of new appointment blocks at this link. It said that new appointments there “seem to be” released Mondays. The spreadsheet shows when each entry was updated and allows the public to submit comments for updating the data.

Click here for the vaccine sites across New Jersey listed by the state Health Department. Eight sites listed are located within Union County. People, however, are not limited to picking sites within their county of residence, where the vaccine site does not indicate otherwise.

How do I get help by telephone? You can access the state's hotline at 855-568-0545 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The call center — staffed with both English and Spanish-speakers — is able to handle over 240 different languages, state health officials said.

As of Feb. 9, the state has suspended the call center’s ability to schedule appointments. According to the state Health Department website, this is “to streamline the system and ensure the needs of callers are met.”

Union County government has also set up a vaccine hotline tailored to assist the following people:

  • Seniors over 65 years of age.
  • Those in the 18-64 age range with qualifying medical conditions who may lack internet access.
  • Residents who need assistance in Spanish.
  • Residents who may need assistance with transportation to and from vaccination sites.

The phone number is 908-613-7VAX (7829), and the hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

What about scheduling multiple appointments? Dr. Tina Sabharwal, medical director at the Atlantic Health Urgent Care Center in Clark, said that people can register as many places as they want for the vaccine, but to be mindful of the appointments they make. “If you are going to register on multiple sites just keep track of any appointments you have made and cancel appropriately,” Sabharwal said.

What types of vaccines are being offered? The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for persons 16 years of age and older under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization. However, the Moderna vaccine is recommended for individuals 18 years and older, the state Department of Health says. Not all sites administer both vaccines, officials said.

Can the vaccine give you COVID-19? No. The vaccines cannot cause infection with COVID-19, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said. In fact, the two vaccines being administering in New Jersey cannot infect you at all, Persichilli said. The current vaccines do not contain any live virus or attenuated virus, she said.

What side effects should be expected? Side effects can include pain and swelling on the arm where you get the shot, in addition to fever, chills tiredness and headaches, according to the CDC. These are normal signs that your body is building protection against the virus, the CDC says.

Will the vaccines work against the new variants? In most cases, yes, they have been found to be very good at stopping severe illness, hospitalization and death, Persichilli said. However, Oxford University said recently that early data from a small study suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not authorized in the United States yet, offers only minimal protection against the mild disease caused by the South African variant, she said. The lead researcher for that vaccine manufacturer said they expect by the fall to have a modified vaccine to deal with the South African variant, Persichilli said.

How effective is the vaccine? The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people without evidence of previous infection, according to the CDC, which cites clinical trial results. Evidence from clinical trials also show the Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people who received two doses who had no evidence of being previously infected, the CDC says.

Do I have to keep Masking and Social Distancing if I have the vaccine? Yes. “Getting the vaccine does not mean that you can’t get it. It’s not 100%,” said Dr. Jeanine Bulan, Medical Director at Atlantic Medical Group in Westfield. “No vaccine is 100%. So, we still need to take precautions to protect ourselves and stop the spread of the virus.”

Clarification: A prior version of this story did not clearly communicate the state’s vaccination goal. The goal is to vaccinate 70% of New Jersey’s eligible adults — 4.7 million people — by the beginning of the summer.

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