Health care workers and those at “high risk” congregate settings – like prisons, nursing homes and other long-term care centers – will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine over the next two months, without the availability of the current test-out option, Gov. Phil Murphy announced.
The order comes amid a surge of the omicron variant driving most new cases, total hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, albeit showing a slowdown in recent days.
“The omicron tsunami has washed across our state,” the governor said at a Jan. 19 event in Galloway while making the first public appearance in his second term. “We are no longer going to look past those who continue to put their colleagues … and those who are their responsibility in danger of COVID. That has to stop.”
Many hospitals and other health care institutions already have their own vaccine mandates for workers.
Last summer, Murphy initially ordered that health care workers must get the vaccine or submit to routine COVID-19 testing, but noted Wednesday that last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision voiding the president’s mandate for certain employers essentially nixes the test-out option.
Health workers have until Jan. 27 to get their first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, and until Feb. 28 to get their second. Those at high-risk settings have until Feb. 28 for the first dose and March 30 for the second dose.
Health workers and those at high-risk settings have until Feb. 16 to get their first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and until March 30 to submit proof that they are up to date with their vaccination.
According to Murphy, the booster is required within three weeks of when a person is eligible. That means six months after the second Moderna or Pfizer dose, or two months after the single Johnson & Johnson shot.
According to state health data, over 6.3 million people in New Jersey are fully vaccinated, while 2.63 million of the 4.95 million eligible New Jerseyans have gotten their booster or a third dose.
“The booster rates are unacceptable,” the governor said. “They’re too low.”
Business groups have cautioned against the vaccine mandates, worried they could worsen the shortage among health care workers.
Several key metrics for gauging the pandemic’s spread have begun to table off, and in many cases dip down. The positivity rate among tests has also dropped.
Health officials said they were expecting a mid-January peak, and for the pandemic to mellow out during February.
The state logged 5,204 confirmed or suspected hospitalizations, a 15% decrease from a peak of 6,089 patients on Jan. 11, while the seven-day average for new cases was 13,6444, compared to the 27,914 cases on Jan. 10.
The state’s seven-day average for new confirmed positive tests dropped to 13,644–down 47% from a week ago, but still up 169% from a month ago, when the recent spike driven by the omicron variant was escalating. Tuesday marked the fifth straight day that average has been below 20,000 after peaking at 27,914 on Jan. 10.
“It is thankfully lower than what we’ve been seeing earlier this month,” Murphy added “It is still up there with the highest daily totals we were seeing at any of the peaks of the prior surges.”
Editor’s note: A prior version of this story included incorrect deadlines for health care workers and those at high-risk settings to complete their COVID-19 vaccinations; it was updated at 12:07 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2022.