Despite the addition of New Jersey’s first two vaccination mega-sites on Jan. 8 meant to ramp up the state’s inoculation capacity, several top state and health officials lamented the short supply of doses handicapping their plans for the near future.
The two sites that went online Friday were one at a 30,000 square foot former Sears storefront at the Rockaway Townsquare in Morris County, and the other at Rowan College of South Jersey in Gloucester County.
There are four more sites opening in the coming days: Atlantic and Burlington counties in South Jersey, Bergen County in North Jersey, and Middlesex County in Central Jersey.
Once at full capacity, the Rockaway site alone would be able to provide between 2,000 and 2,400 doses a day, seven days a week, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, adding that it will likely be fully operational by May.
Right now, vaccines are limited to medical personnel, police officers and firefighters, and long-term care residents. There are 650,000 health care workers in the state and 55,000 police and firefighters who state health officials want to vaccinate by early February.
Vaccines will eventually be available to senior citizens, essential workers and those with medical conditions, and the general public, by April or May.
“We want it to be more, but we need [more] vaccine availability,” she said during her prepared remarks following the Friday morning tour, which was also attended by Gov. Phil Murphy, and Brian Gragnolati, chief executive officer of Atlantic Health, which is overseeing the Rockaway site.
Murphy assured that the state will “begin to slowly but surely widen the circle of folks who are eligible.”
“We continue to have a big supply-demand imbalance. We need more out of the feds. As the next number of weeks go on, that imbalance begins to slowly but surely cure and correct itself,” he added, pointing to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in 13 days.
Biden said Friday that his administration will speed up the distribution of the nation’s existing dosage supply once he assumes office.
“We don’t have the supply from the feds that we need. Within the context of a large supply/demand imbalance, I like everything we’re doing inside the state to get prepared. But they don’t have the doses they could use at full capacity,” Murphy told reporters following the tour. “That is going to take some time.”
The vaccination process is a key component of getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control and lifting the myriad of business restrictions put in place to halt the spread of the virus, which has entered the second wave both in New Jersey and across the nation.
Daily new cases in New Jersey hit an all-time record high on Jan. 7. Monumentally higher testing capacity than what the state had in the spring means that more cases would inevitably be detected.
But months-long record-highs in daily fatalities, as well as total COVID-19 hospitalizations, and patients on ventilators or in critical care, have all moved in an alarming direction.
Total daily nationwide fatalities reported on Friday pushed past 4,000 for the first time during the 10-month pandemic.
“The next few weeks are going to be really tough,” the governor said on Friday. “There is no question there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
And nearly 160,000 first or second doses of the vaccine have been administered as of Thursday, according to state health data, ever since a University Hospital nurse was the first in New Jersey to receive a dose on Dec. 15.
The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of the eligible adult population, meaning about 4.7 million people, by the end of May.