Days after assuring that the state would “not push back the deadline for health care and other staff at high-risk congregate settings to get the [COVID-19] booster shot,” Gov. Phil Murphy signed an order on March 2 extending that deadline to April 11, or within three weeks of the date of eligibility for the added jab.
The move comes as hospital groups such as the New Jersey Hospital Association warn that despite a more than 90% vaccination rate among the roughly half a million affected workers, tens of thousands have likely not gotten the booster.
Those workers could face disciplinary actions at the discretion of their employer should they not get the jab, Murphy said.
Workers at high-risk settings — mainly, thousands of unvaccinated corrections workers — have until May 11 to show that they’re up to date with their vaccinations.
Less than 50% of New Jersey’s corrections officers have been vaccinated, placing them at risk of termination, according to various media reports. After May 11, anyone eligible for the shot will have three weeks from the eligibility date to prove that they’ve gotten the booster.
“This executive order ensures that our COVID-19 vaccination requirements for covered workers in medical and high-risk congregate settings are able to properly keep themselves and those whom they care for safe,” the governor said in a prepared March 2 statement accompanying the order.
Late in February, the NJHA pressed the Murphy administration for a 90-day booster shot extension past the original Feb. 28 deadline.
As of Feb. 28, 61.2% of the roughly 54,000 workers at assisted living facilities had gotten the booster, compared with just 91% of staff who’d gotten both Moderna or Pfizer jabs, or the single Johnson & Johnson shot, according to state figures.
The state does not collect and publish similar data for health care workers, like those at hospitals.
“We wholeheartedly support vaccination and booster shots as the best protection against COVID for health care workers and the people they care for,” reads a February statement from NJHA President Cathleen Bennett.
“They’re also important for continuing to move us forward from this pandemic. However, we have asked the Governor for a 90-day extension of the Feb. 28 booster shot deadline,” she said.
The requirements came amid a survey the NJHA published in February that said that the vacancy rate among registered nurses rose from 8.2% in 2020, to 13.4% in 2021. Hospitals said they spent $499 million in overtime in 2020 and $592 million in 2021, according to an NJHA survey.
Temporary agency and travel staff costs were $222 million in 2020 and $670 million in 2021, the agency said.
Murphy signed the order outlining the booster shot deadline and nixing the test-out option in mid-January amid surges from the omicron variant, which drove daily COVID cases and total hospitalizations to all-time highs.
But those and many other metrics have since dropped to their lowest levels in months, signaling the end of the omicron surge.
Bennett on Wednesday praised the extension and said in a statement that it would give health workers “additional opportunities to comply with the state’s booster shot requirements.
“Our health care facilities continue to work closely with their team members to answer concerns, dispel misinformation and increase booster shot acceptance,” she continued. “The new executive order from the governor will help us meet our shared goal of vaccinating our health care workforce.”