With just days before some of the state’s most aggressive and final business reopenings coming out of the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy expressed anxiety over whether the state can fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by June 30.
“It’s going to be close. I think we got a real shot,” Murphy said during an afternoon May 25 radio appearance on WFAN’s “Moose and Maggie Show.” The governor added that he was “cautiously optimistic” the state can reach that goal.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, there were just shy of 4 million people fully vaccinated in New Jersey and 8.4 million total doses.
Widespread vaccinations are a key metric in meaningfully and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.
This Friday, the state is lifting the indoor mask and 6-foot social distancing requirements for vaccinated individuals. Following that, on June 4, the state is relaxing capacity restrictions on indoor venues like MetLife and Prudential Center. Restrictions on indoor gatherings will also be lifted then.
But interest has lagged in recent weeks, jeopardizing the state’s goals of administering enough shots to build a brick wall that can halt the spread of the virus without having to enact new restrictions on businesses, public gatherings and non-essential travel.
“It flipped almost overnight from a supply-demand imbalance where there were more people who wanted shots than we had … it happened quickly where it went the other way,” Murphy said.
Hesitancy has come from outright skeptics and so-called “anti-vaxxers,” and from those still uneasy about the vaccine, and hard-to-reach groups including lower-income and typically African American and Hispanic communities.
Most of the administered shots come from the Pfizer and Moderna versions, which both require a two-dose regimen spaced roughly a month apart. That means the final stretch of fully vaccinated New Jersey adults will need to have gotten their first shot by the beginning of June, Murphy said.
“Losing is not an option here,” said one senior administration official, who requested anonymity. “But at the end of the day,” things don’t stop on June 30,” this official said. “If we meet our goal on July 15, we’re going to keep plugging away until we meet our goal.”
Those efforts fall under the auspices of “Operation Jersey Summer.”
It includes hundreds of canvassers who will knock on doors across the state to promote the vaccine and available sites, coordination with local religious and community leaders, free beer and wine from participating breweries and wineries for those who get the first shot in May, walk-ins at the six vaccination mega-centers, dosage supply to local officials and medical offices, and a focus on urban neighborhoods where vaccination rates have lagged the most across the state.
“We basically have got to take the vaccines to the people as opposed to what had been the case of the people coming to the vaccine,” Murphy said. “I think we’ll get there.”
The Pfizer vaccine previously got federal approval for anyone between the age of 12 and 15, and Moderna announced that its research showed the vaccine’s effectiveness for children as young as 12.
Murphy said that those age groups would simply be in addition to the 4.7 million-person goal.