NJ expands COVID-19 vaccine to smokers but teachers, other essential workers kept waiting


New Jersey on Thursday opened up coronavirus vaccine distribution to include residents ages 65 and older and those ages 16 and older who have at least one chronic medical condition, which the state said includes smoking and obesity, but teachers and other essential workers who do not fall into this category will still have to wait.

Additionally, the state will not require residents to show documented proof of any medical conditions or age.

Other chronic medical conditions now eligible for vaccine include cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Down syndrome, heart conditions, organ transplant patients, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and Type 2 diabetes. These New Jersey residents join paid or unpaid persons working or volunteering in a health care setting, residents of long-term care facilities or other congregate settings, frontline first responders, and those over 65 in being eligible for the coveted vaccine.  

“Expanding access to [the] vaccine to individuals in these categories is critical as we know they are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness and death,” Judith Persichilli, the state’s health commissioner, said in a press release posted Wednesday. “80% of COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey have been among those 65 and older, and overall 67% of deaths had one or more underlying conditions reported.”

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The state’s expansion to include those with underlying conditions, which includes smoking, is in step with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for those who are considered to be at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, but it doesn’t sit well with some residents.

“How is smoking on this list?? Serious?? So your [SIC] gonna [SIC] give a vaccine to a smoker over someone who is an essential employee that’s at a higher risk of infection?? Doesn’t make sense,” one Twitter user wrote.

However, Persichilli in a press conference added on Wednesday that the state has over 2 million smokers, making it the largest group at risk. She said 1.2 million individuals had already pre-registered for the vaccine through the state’s website.

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Over 387,840 doses of the vaccine have been administered in New Jersey, with an overwhelming majority of the recipients being female. According to the state’s data, 63% of the recipients are female, while 37% are male. Nearly half of the recipients are White at 46%, and residents ages 30-49 represent the most vaccinated at 36%.

The state said it expects more groups to become eligible in the coming weeks as it opens distribution up for additional frontline essential workers, other essential workers and the general population in Phase 1B, Phase 1C and Phase 2, respectively.





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