State health officials are grappling with a drop-off in demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, a development that they say was expected, but has nonetheless jeopardized the Murphy administration’s ambitious statewide inoculation goals.
“The drop in demand, we expected it either last week or this week, and it started last week,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during an April 26 COVID-19 press briefing. “It was part of the reason why we jumped earlier from May 1 to April 19 to expand eligibility to everybody.”
State health officials are racing to fully vaccinate 4.7 million New Jersey adults by June 30, a threshold that they argue is key to building widespread herd immunity that could curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and in turn, lead to lifting COVID-19 business restrictions en masse.
Murphy suggested that fewer people are willing to get the vaccine because of such mindsets as “the weather’s getting warmer, the numbers are going in the right direction, I feel good, I haven’t gotten sick yet.”
“Those are not [good] reasons,” he said. “We need folks to get vaccinated.”
Murphy contended that the 4.7 million-person goal is still attainable, even with a nearly two-week pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The state resumed the use of the J&J vaccine over the weekend and administered 19 doses according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichillli. She predicted the number was much higher in actuality, and that there were lags in data reportage.
Federal health officials instituted the pause following several reports of rare blood clots among some J&J recipients. Despite assurances of the J&J shot’s safety, public interest in taking the shot has nosedived.
An ABC News/Washington Post Survey released April 26 found that 22% of respondents said they would take the shot, compared to 73% who said they would turn down a J&J vaccine.
J&J vaccines were a more attractive option for delivering shots to hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, elderly, and lower-inome, urban residents, as they are effective after a single dose and require storage in refrigeration-level temperatures. That’s unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two doses spaced roughly a month apart, and storage in Arctic-level temperatures.
Many of those groups “may not be able to come in for a second dose or it will be difficult to track a second dose,” Persichilli said.
J&J shots make up a small percentage of the 2.8 million New Jerseyans who’ve been fully vaccinated.
“If you put the J&J vaccine aside for a second, you really have to get the 4.7 millionth first shot in the arm by the end of May if you’re going to get the last shot” before the June 30 deadline, the governor said. “We need a suite of proactive actions.”
Most of the people the state has vaccinated by now fall into the group of 3.6 million New Jerseyans that waited in line for months during the winter and spring, according to the health commissioner.
“That demand has been pretty well-satisfied,” she continued. “Now we need to focus on specific cohorts,” such as college and university campuses.
Advertising has gradually been ramped up in the past few months, starting first with health care workers and continuing to target the growing net of the eligible adult population, according to Persichilli.
“Coupled with messaging, we partner with cultural leaders and community leaders to create pop-up vaccination events to bring vaccines closer to where people are,” she added.
State health officials are trying to put three mobile COVID-19 vaccine vans on the road, but those efforts have lagged for months.