UNION COUNTY, NJ — As of Thursday, 4.3 million COVID-19 vaccination doses have been administered in New Jersey and 1.6 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.

The doses are being administered statewide through hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers, government-run clinics and state run “mega-sites,” New Jersey’s COVID-19 dashboard shows.

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

  • Individuals age 65+
  • Individuals age 16-64 with certain medical conditions
  • Childcare workers in licensed and registered settings
  • Clergy
  • Educators and staff, pre-K to 12
  • Eldercare and support workers
  • Elections personnel
  • First responders
  • Healthcare workers
  • Hospitality workers
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness and those living in shelters
  • Judicial system workers
  • Long-term care and high-risk congregate care facility residents and staff
  • Medical supply chain employees
  • Members of tribal communities
  • Migrant farm workers
  • Postal and shipping service workers
  • Public safety workers
  • Social service workers and support staff
  • Transportation workers
  • Warehousing and logistics workers

Upcoming Eligibility Changes

Beginning Monday, April 5, people aged 55 and older, additional frontline essential workers, and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities 16 and over, will be eligible to book appointments, according to the state health department.

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

MORE: Twitter Bots Can Help You Find COVID Vaccine Shots in Union County & NJ

How do I schedule shots? Both Union County and the state Health Department offer websites where you can schedule shots, 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 is offering the vaccine at various locations. 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 volunteers, 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.

Click here for the vaccine sites across New Jersey listed by the state Health Department. Listed in Union County are 21 sites. 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.

The state has also established a hotline specifically for seniors. Individuals aged 65 and older can call a special senior hotline at 856-249-7007 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for vaccination scheduling support. The state Health Department says dedicated appointment slots are reserved for those aged 65 and older. Appointment availability and scheduling varies by location.

Union County government has 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 county’s hotline 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 is the best vaccine to get? Due to limited supplies, officials recommend taking the first vaccine you can get. “All the vaccines offer protections, and you should take the one that’s available at the site that you’re registered at,” said Ellen Shelley, the vulnerable populations outreach coordinator at the Westfield Regional Health Department, during a forum on the COVID-19 vaccine held Thursday.

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.

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.

The CDC says that the Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine was found to be 66.3% effective in clinical trials (efficacy) at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people who had no evidence of prior infection two weeks after receiving the vaccine. People had the most protection 2 weeks after getting vaccinated, according to the CDC.

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.”