New Jersey is taking its six COVID-19 vaccine mega-sites offline through the middle of July as more than 4.1 million people get fully vaccinated, Gov. Phil Murphy said.
The closures mark a shift toward hyperlocal deployment of the vaccination efforts, as the state attempts to inoculate hundreds of thousands of vaccine-hesitant New Jerseyans. More than 2 million people have gotten their shots at one of the six mega-centers.
“This in no way means that our job is done,” Murphy said during his 200th COVID-19 briefing on June 2.
On Wednesday, the mega-sites in Atlantic and Gloucester counties each gave their final first doses, Murphy said. Bergen County’s mega-site is giving its final first doses June 4. Final doses are being given at the Morris County mega-site on June 23, the Middlesex County mega-site on June 26, and the Burlington County mega-site on July 1.
“With close to 1,800 vaccination sites located across the state, we are now beginning to transition away from the mega-site model to the community-based model,” Murphy added.
As of June 2, the state fully vaccinated roughly 4.1 million. Murphy’s self-imposed goals for fully vaccinating 4.7 million adults by the end of the month.
After that, the administration is turning its focus toward people under 16 as the federal government greenlights the vaccine’s use for younger age groups.
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.
“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 last week.
Widespread vaccinations are key to meaningfully and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions on business and public gatherings. Hesitancy – especially among Hispanic and African American neighborhoods – could jeopardize those efforts.
In addition to wariness and uncertainty about the virus, public health officials have to grapple with outright vaccine refusal, and barriers for residents to get the vaccine.
“It’s going to be close. I think we got a real shot,” the governor said last week, adding that he was “cautiously optimistic” the state can reach that goal.
Murphy’s office and several local health departments have employed an array of tactics to get more shots into the arms of Hispanic and Black New Jerseyans. Those are part of the administration’s so-called “Operation Jersey Summer.”
For lower-income, urban and typically minority communities, those efforts include mobile vaccine pop-up sites at community centers and places of worship.
Murphy said the Johnson & Johnson shot, given its storage requirements in mild temperatures, and single-shot requirement has made it the shot of choice for those communities, and for harder-to-reach groups like the homeless.
Other efforts under Operation Jersey Summer include hundreds of canvassers who will knock on doors across the state to promote the vaccine and available sites, free beer and wine from participating breweries and wineries for those who get the first shot in May, free state park passes and the chance to win a sit-down dinner with the governor and dosage supply to local officials and medical offices.
The state brought shots to beaches on the Jersey Shore this Memorial Day weekend. But according to Murphy, those efforts yielded just 235 people who got their first shot.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted that heavy rain and chilly, windy conditions kept many people at home that would have otherwise head to the shore.
“Because the weather was absolutely miserable, I frankly think that was a success given the awful weather,” the governor said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated that more than 950,000 people have gotten their shots at one of the six mega-centers; it is actually 2 million.