Police, firefighters in N.J. begin receiving COVID-19 vaccine

State Police Sgt. Brian Patrick McEnerney, part of Troop B Tactical Patrol Unit Squad #1, after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Police officers and firefighters in New Jersey began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday at the Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Morris County.

New Jersey officials announced on Wednesday that the state is moving to the second round of COVID-19 vaccinations. The next group of eligible people will be inoculated soon, but it will be some time before the vaccine is widely available. Health care workers, emergency medical personnel, and residents of long-term care facilities are still being vaccinated as well.

Gov. Phil Murphy and other top state officials visited the Rockaway Mall to celebrate the start of law enforcement members and firefighters receiving the vaccine. The regional vaccination center, one of six vaccination mega-sites across the state, opened Friday and is currently serving frontline health care workers, police, and first responders. Another mega-site at Rowan University in Gloucester County also opened on Friday. Officials hope to vaccinate 1,000 people per week at the sites.

All sworn law enforcement and fire professionals in New Jersey are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The group is estimated to include about 55,000 people. They are the first people in Phase 1B in the state to become eligible for vaccination. EMS professionals, also considered first responders, are already eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1A as health care workers.

“Throughout this pandemic, our first responders have continued to save lives and protect our communities, and I am proud today that we are able to provide them with this added level of protection as they continue to do their jobs,” Murphy said. “When we’re ready to move forward, this site will serve as one of six mega-sites for the general public to receive their vaccinations. With hundreds of thousands of preregistrations already received, we know there will be a strong demand when that day arrives.”  

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the mega-sites for vaccinations will be able to handle a large volume of people as the state moves through the vaccine eligibility phases. “The sites are part of a growing network of community-based sites that will help ensure fair and equitable access and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines,” she said.

The New Jersey Department of Health is working with an advisory committee that meets regularly to determine which frontline workers in the 1B group will become eligible for the vaccine next. An estimated 2.5 million people are in the 1B group. They will be followed by the 1C group, which includes people over 65 and people of any age who have certain underlying conditions.

Officials said the state hopes to vaccinate 4.7 million people, or about 70% of residents who are eligible for the vaccines, within six months. Officials have said it could take until May before the state has enough vaccines on hand to immunize everyone. The vaccines are being shipped by the federal government from Pfizer and Moderna directly to various vaccination sites in each state. In recent weeks the state has been granted almost all of the doses officials have ordered, more than 100,000 a week.

The state opened up its vaccine pre-registration portal this week. But some counties and municipalities have also opened up their own pre-registration portals that are not tied to the state’s portal. Some residents in the state are pre-registering for the vaccine via multiple portals because of this situation.

Health care professionals in the 1A group can make appointments to get the vaccine at more than 200 doctors’ offices, drug stores, and public health facilities.

Vaccinations at long-term care and congregate care facilities are being administered by teams from CVS and Walgreens as part of a partnership the federal government established with the two chain drug stores.