New Jersey Transit is offering free rides for people who need transportation to get their COVID-19 vaccine, the statewide transit agency announced on May 4.
The move is part of an effort by the Murphy administration to fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by June 30, which it argues is key to building herd immunity against the virus and fully lifting COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and public gatherings.
State data show that 3.3 million New Jersey adults have been vaccinated as of May 3, out of 7 million total doses. Vaccine hesitancy and overall apathy have triggered a slowdown in the rates by which people are being vaccinated.
In response, state health officials are ramping up an aggressive marketing effort that includes free beer at one of 13 breweries across the state for those who get their first shot this month.
As a whole, the nation is relying on the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine which state officials are using to vaccinate harder to reach populations like the urban neighborhoods, the elderly and the homeless.
Sixteen of the New Jersey’s largest, typically urban towns and cities show lagging vaccine numbers, a long-standing issue. According to state data, New Brunswick, for example, only vaccinated 24% of its residents, followed by Irvington and Philsiburg at 29%, and Camden, East Orange, Pemberton, Perth Amboy and Trenton at 32%.
“Transportation should not be a barrier for anyone wishing to protect themselves from COVID-19,” New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, who chairs NJ Transit’s board of directors, said in the May 4 announcement.
Under the program known as VAXRIDE, residents can get up to two free round trips to their vaccine appointment by entering the promo code “VAXRIDE” on the NJ Transit app during purchase.
Bus tickets are limited to four zones and rail tickets to New Jersey destinations. Travel is covered to publicly and privately operated sites, such as one of the state’s six vaccine “mega-centers” or CVS and Walgreens locations.
Those without smartphones can register at a customer service desk in either the Hoboken Terminal, Newark or New York Penn Station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Secaucus Junction, the Trenton Transit Center, or the Walter Rand Transportation Center. Or they can call customer service and receive their tickets in the mail.
Transit officials estimate that the program will benefit roughly 11,000 residents. It’s being paid for via a $12,000 grant from pharmaceutical manufacturer Catalent and $120,000 from drugmaker Novartis.
“We have a terrific opportunity through our sponsorship of the VAXRIDE program to help provide transportation that will enable our fellow New Jerseyans to get their shot in the fight against COVID-19,” said Rob Kowalski, head heads Novartis’ operations in the United States.