The state’s plans to roll out a COVID-19 booster shot to as many as 2.4 million New Jerseyans in just a few weeks remain up in the air as the national and global scientific communities continue to dispute whether another jab is needed at this time for those who are fully vaccinated.
“We still are awaiting word regarding federal authorization of booster shots,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a regular COVID-19 press briefing on Sept. 13. “Even without this guidance, we continue work across all levels of government … to ensure we are prepared whenever that authorization comes down.”
President Joe Biden’s plans to offer Pfizer and Moderna booster shots to the general public this fall has been widely panned by epidemiologists and scientists.
Two senior officials are stepping down from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – Dr. Philip Krause and Marion Gruber – who were both lead authors in a Sept. 13 study from The Lancet, concluding that “[c]urrent evidence does not, therefore, appear to show a need for boosting in the general population.”
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in addition, said that the U.S. and other highly vaccinated nations need to focus on sharing doses with countries in need of more supplies rather than adding extra doses.
An FDA advisory group is meeting Sept. 17 to further discuss the data surrounding the use of boosters.
Murphy said the goal is to prepare the state for the possibility that “the window for boosters could soon be open for all you who received your second doses as recently as six months ago – so pretty much everyone who had been vaccinated by March.”
To roll out the booster shot could mean the reactivation of an entire health care infrastructure put into mothballs since the late spring.
That includes a vaccine mega-site reopening each in North, Central and South Jersey, as well as a county-level site at each of the state’s 21 counties, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“We expect to have at least one mega-site up almost immediately, if not Sept. 20, shortly after that,” she said. It’s not clear which of the sites would be brought back online.
The sites were previously housed at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic County, Rowan University in Gloucester County, the Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment Complex in Bergen County, the Moorestown Mall in Burlington County, the New Jersey Expo Center in Middlesex County, and the Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Morris County.
At issue is whether the booster should be given six or eight months after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to Murphy.
Regardless, the governor said, “there will initially be a supply-demand imbalance.”
On top of that, the state would tap into county-run vaccine sites, and rely on the existing system of local pharmacies and hospitals, according to Persichilli.
“While we have tremendous capacity at our vaccination sites now, we are working hard to increase it further,” the governor said on Aug. 30.
The first people who got the vaccine were health care workers, those with preexisting medical conditions, seniors and other essential frontline workers, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that as a result, they would be the first to likely get a booster shot.