A state website where residents can pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine is still not up yet, even though vaccinations for health care workers in New Jersey already have begun. Most county websites have little specific information about the vaccine rollout, and instead redirect people to the state website. Adding to the confusion, at least one local online news chain published an article listing dates when various groups would be vaccinated, but much of the information was wrong or out of date.
Residents of Essex County appear to be faring better than those of New Jersey’s other 20 counties when it comes to information. Essex County has its own COVID-19 vaccine registration portal already, and county officials there have also created flyers in English and Spanish with detailed information about which group is currently receiving the vaccine and who is included in that group, referred to by the state as “Group 1A.”
New Jersey residents searching for similar portals and information in their own counties have mostly come up short. For example, a few Princeton doctors in private practice contacted a reporter because they were trying to find out online a week ago how, when, and where to sign up to get the vaccine but had no luck. The state has since created and updated a list of sites where health care workers can be vaccinated.
In New Jersey, more than 70% of the state’s supply of the COVID-19 vaccine had not been used as of Thursday, echoing a national trend of slow vaccine distribution. Of the 265,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been delivered to New Jersey, 72,657 residents had been given a shot by Thursday afternoon. State officials said at the regular press briefing on Wednesday that a lack of personnel, challenging logistics, and timing issues were to blame.
The state is setting up six COVID-19 vaccine mega sites, but the nearest state sites for area residents will be in Burlington and Edison. The state is also setting up a network of more than 200 satellite vaccination sites — including hospitals, health, and urgent care centers, chain pharmacies, and local sites. The aim is to vaccinate 70% of the state’s adult residents within six months.
County and local health departments — which are already overworked and understaffed due to the pandemic — are bearing much of the responsibility for local vaccine distribution. The local health officers in Mercer County have formed an alliance to coordinate vaccine rollout efforts and clinics. Other vaccine sites will include pharmacies, urgent care centers, and doctors’ offices.
The first hospital workers in the state began receiving the vaccine on Dec. 15. Area hospital workers started to get the vaccine later that week. Residents of long-term care facilities in the state began receiving vaccines on Dec. 28. The first vaccine clinic in Mercer County for health care workers and emergency medical technicians was held in Hamilton on the same day.
It appears that Mercer County will host its own large vaccine clinics, but no details are available yet. On Dec. 31, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes sent out a letter to elected officials and residents about the vaccine distribution.
“In concert with the Mercer County Health Officers Association, our municipalities, and our health care providers, we are following the outline as set forth by the State Department of Health, which also determines to whom the vaccines will be distributed in the most fair and equitable manner,” Hughes wrote. “At this early stage of the vaccination program, a very small number of doses have been made available to our towns and have been or will be distributed to health care workers, hospitals, and long-term care residents and staff.”
Hughes then referred people to the state’s vaccine plan, which is available online.
“Once our health care workers and local EMS providers are vaccinated, a determination at the state level will be made to move to the next priority group, 1B, currently set to comprise front-line essential workers and individuals over 75,” Hughes wrote. “When more vaccine is available, Mercer County and our partners will stand up a larger, regional site for our residents at one or more locations to be announced, and we vow to reach our most vulnerable and marginalized communities by empowering our community leaders to be the bridge.”