WESTFIELD, NJ — In an effort to boost COVID-19 immunizations, health officials in Westfield have formed a subcommittee to address questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Westfield Board of Health approved the formation of the committee earlier this week as the town’s health officer discussed public confusion over the rollout of vaccines in New Jersey.

“The simple truth is that there’s lots of hesitancy, and we want to be able to have clear lines of communication and to support the staff,” said Elizabeth Talmont, a member of the board of health, who is heading up the committee.

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As community questions or concerns rise up about the vaccine, Talmont said, the committee will make itself available answer those questions about the vaccine. This, officials said, will be done in coordination with the department’s health educator.

Health Officer Megan Avallone told the board that while the entire state is following the same guidelines on vaccine distribution, with limited guidance from the federal government, it has been difficult to provide residents with clear answers about the vaccine.

“It is very fragmented, I have to tell you, and there are no easy answers to give to residents because the information is changing,” Avallone said. “It is changing very regularly.”

She added: “Every state’s doing something different, which makes it even more confusing to residents who are trying to understand.”

Across New Jersey, the state Health Department opened up registration for the vaccine via a website where anyone can pre-register for the vaccine.

On Wednesday, Union County opened its COVID-19 vaccine portal, shortly after the state announced that people 65 and over and those with certain medical conditions would be eligible for the vaccine beginning Thursday. But shortly after county’s portal opened, a message appeared on the site stating, “At this time, all vaccine appointments are filled. Please check back regularly for updates.”

Avallone noted that in addition to the governmental vaccination sites, certain ShopRites are also offering the vaccine, which was first made available to medical professionals, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, then police and firefighters.

The vaccine rollout comes as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, with the Westfield Regional Health Department having cleared over 1,200 coronavirus cases in December across the eight municipalities it serves, Avallone said.

December saw 27% of the department’s cases total cases throughout the pandemic, she said.

“Even though a vaccine is here, it is not plentiful yet, and we are very much in the thick of things,” Avallone said.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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