As people keep scrambling to secure scarce appointments for coronavirus vaccines, New Jersey’s top health official said Monday she expects the state to continue receiving only 100,000 doses from the federal government in each of the next four weeks despite hope its supply was about to ramp up.
State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said people who have already received the first dose of the two-dose vaccine will be able to get their second shot on time. She noted, however, the state can’t promise when others will be able to get their first shot, even though Gov. Phil Murphy vastly expanded eligibility last week.
“I can assure that second doses will be given on time,” Persichilli told reporters Monday morning before a vaccination event in Old Bridge. “But I can’t assure increasing numbers of people will be able to get their first dose.”
This comes after Murphy expanded vaccine eligibility in New Jersey to residents 65 and older, those with chronic health conditions, and smokers, following guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control. More than 4 million New Jersey residents are now eligible.
Demand, though, has so far outpaced supply, causing a bottleneck of people seeking a limited number of appointments.
Officials have said New Jersey has the capacity to administer 470,000 vaccine doses a week but stressed states are depending on the federal government for their supply. So far, the state has received only 100,000 doses a week.
Persichilli said the state was expecting to get “a lot more doses” starting this week, based on what federal officials told the state. But “we had to back off our expectation,” she said.
She nows expects the state to keep receiving 50,000 Pfizer vaccine doses and 50,000 Moderna doses a week over the next month.
“We’re not hopeful we’re going to get anything more than that,” the commissioner said.
At issue is a decision by President Donald Trump’s administration. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced last week that the federal government would release vaccine doses that had been held in reserve for second shots. But the Washington Post reported Friday that the national stockpile was already depleted, with the administration taking second doses directly off the manufacturing line. That dashed the hopes of health officials across the country who were hoping their supplies would nearly double.
Persichilli emphasized Monday that the state does not have its own stockpile.
“The doses go directly from the federal government to the points of dispensing,” she said.
“We were hoping for more,” Persichilli added. “But what our points of dispensing need are predictability for appointment scheduling. So we’re gonna stick with 100,000 for the next four weeks, allocate appropriately based on the throughput of some sites are busier than others, and hope that the Biden administration through the manufacturing pipeline finds more doses for it. Because we really need it.”
The federal Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday.
Azar tweeted Saturday that the administration’s announcement last week “was that we are releasing the remaining reserved second doses according to the established cadence — ensuring second doses would be available at the right interval — and that going forward we’d no longer have a reserve of second doses.”
President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to ramp up vaccinations after he takes office Wednesday. Biden’s top health officials have said they’re confident they can meet their goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in 100 days.
New Jersey has faced criticism for having a slower rollout than dozens of other states as it continues to deal with a second wave of the pandemic, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least 348,414 doses of the vaccine had been administered in New Jersey as of Sunday, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. Of those, 308,874 were the first of two doses people will receive, while 39,330 were the second.
Officials say the goal is to vaccinate 70% of New Jersey’s residents — or about 4.7 million people — by the end of May. More than 1.5 million residents have registered for the vaccine.
New Jersey has opened four of its six planned vaccine mega-sites, which will serve as hubs.
Each site is currently offering the shot only to priority groups, including health care professionals, EMS teams, police officers and firefighters, people age 65 and over, those with chronic health conditions, and smokers. State officials have said each location will eventually have the capacity to vaccinate thousands of people per week once there is enough supply.
There are also dozens of smaller vaccine sites across the state, though many are currently not showing appointment availability because of the short supply. State officials have said more appointments will become available as the state receives more doses.
If you are eligible, you can sign up directly with vaccine providers, who can be found on a list provided by the state Department of Health, said Donna Leusner, a department spokeswoman.
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