With the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgrading the Delta variant to a “variant of concern,” the top New Jersey health official maintained that, for now, it only makes up a slither of new cases in the state.
“While this variant has increased in New Jersey, it is currently a small minority of all variants, 5.1% of all the variants sequenced in the last four weeks,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during a regular COVID-19 press briefing on June 16.
The Delta variant, formally called B.1.617.2, was first detected in India this December and has since spread to more than 60 countries. The strain is far more contagious than the “Alpha variant,” first detected in the United Kingdom and formally called the B.1.1.7 strain.
Persichilli stressed that the COVID-19 vaccine would be effective against this new variant. Even so, public health experts have questioned for how long.
“The vaccines can prevent you from being one of the numbers on our dashboard,” Gov. Phil Murphy said on June 16, in reference to the state-run depository that lists daily positive cases, hospitalizations and fatalities from the virus.
State health data show that nearly 4.45 million people who live, work and study in the state have been inoculated, and another 171,000 people got vaccinated in another state. Roughly 370,000 New Jerseyans between the ages of 12 and 17 have gotten the shot.
The shots are a key step to permanently lifting the myriad of restrictions on businesses, public gatherings and travel that have been in place over the past 15 months to halt the spread of the virus.
“There is no pandemic among the 4,627,717 million we have counted who are now fully vaccinated against COVID,” the governor added. “There is only a pandemic among those who have yet to get their shot.”
His goal is to fully vaccinate 4.7 million state adults by June 30, noting that the shots are more than 99% effective in preventing new infections, and “even stronger” in preventing serious cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Efforts to encourage that final round of inoculations include intense public messaging, incentives, perks, bringing vaccine sites to local neighborhoods and sites like religious establishments, and outreach to minority communities, as vaccination rates nationwide – and in New Jersey – reflect African American and Hispanic communities lagging in getting the vaccine. Many Black and Brown New Jerseyans said they are still not willing to get the vaccine–and at a much higher rate than other demographics.