WESTFIELD, NJ — Seeking answers that might help them navigate a complicated COVID-19 signup process for a vaccine that is in short supply, about 80 people gathered for a virtual Q&A session on the topic.

A panel of four medical experts discussed a range of topics on the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday from where to sign up to get the shots, what number to call for assistance with registration, efficacy of the shots and New Jersey’s main issue: a limited vaccine supply.

Panelists urged patience and were optimistic about the news that New Jersey is anticipated to see an increase in the vaccines the federal government is distributing.

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“They’re increasing the amount of doses that New Jersey would be receiving by 16%, and they’re guaranteeing it for the next three weeks,” said Ellen Shelley, the vulnerable populations outreach coordinator at the Westfield Regional Department of Health. “What we’re being told is that New Jersey will be receiving 130,000 vaccines each week for the next three weeks.”

A professional advisory committee within the state Department of Health sets distribution of the vaccines to the various sites based on a series of factors, including how many shots those sites have administered already, Shelley said.

“One of the things they look do look at is the volume of the vaccine that has been delivered or administered to the clients,” she said. As of Thursday, Shelley said, the state was not opening up new sites due to the limited supply of the vaccine.

The following are among the questions answered at the forum organized by Lifelong Westfield, an initiative of the mayor’s senior citizens advisory council.

Where can I call for questions on the vaccine or help in signing up for shots on the state’s website?

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.

Where can I sign up for the vaccine online?

While supply of the vaccine is limited here are some sites where you can sign up for the vaccine.

Preregister for the vaccine distributed through state of New Jersey sites at this link.

Register for the vaccine at distributed by through Union County at Kean University at this link. Registration is for people who live or work in Union County and are eligible to receive the vaccine. The county opens registration when the vaccines become available.

Preregister for the vaccine distributed by Atlantic Health at this link. An Atlantic Health Urgent Care Center in Clark is among the locations offering the vaccine. Atlantic Health will notify you when appointments become available.

Register for the vaccine offered at ShopRites pharmacies at this link. Registration will be available when appointments open up. In Union County, ShopRites pharmacies offering the vaccine are located in Clark and Elizabeth.

Click here for the vaccine sites across New Jersey listed by the state Health Department. Eight sites listed are located within Union County.

Can I preregister for the vaccine at multiple sites?

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.

People should allow for time to fill out a one-page form and will be monitored for symptoms for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine, she added.

What about folks who are frustrated with the vaccine registration process?

Sabharwal said that medical professionals are trying to get to as many people as they can each day and that supplies of the vaccine are anticipated to increase.

“We will get to you,” she said. “You just have to give us a little bit of time. We are getting more vaccines every day. They are increasing numbers.”

What symptoms can people expect to experience after receiving the vaccine?

People getting vaccinated can expect soreness of their arm at the vaccination site, particularly after the second dose, the medical professionals said. They may also experience additional symptoms.

“When you have this vaccine, and you get a little reaction or a fever that’s a good sign,” said Dr. Sushmita Srivastav, medical director at Lantern Hill Senior Living in New Providence and a member of Lifelong Westfield. “That means your immunity is fighting … it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”

How effective is the vaccine?

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine are at least 90% effective at preventing the virus, the medical professionals said. However, having the vaccine does not mean you should stop social distancing and wearing masks.

“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.”

If you’ve had COVID-19, should you get the vaccine?

Yes. “We don’t know how long there is protection of one’s own immunity after an infection,” Bulan said. “So we are still recommending that patients who have had COVID ... should still consider getting vaccinated.”

Sabharwal added that the CDC recommendation is to wait at least 60 days after you’ve had COVID-19 to get the vaccine.

“There have been a little bit more reactions — at least that’s what we’ve seen — if you’ve had the infection within a certain time period,” she said.

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

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