A former Sears at a mall in Rockaway was inaugurated Friday morning as the first of six planned New Jersey “megasites” prepares for mass coronavirus vaccinations, although the vaccine continues to be slower than government officials want.
Gov. Phil Murphy was available when police officers and firefighters became the first people to receive their shots at Rockaway Townsquare.
The location of Morris County is one of two megasites the state opens on Friday. The other is at Rowan College in South Jersey in Sewell, Gloucester County. The last four ̵
State Health Commissioner Judith Persichi said the sites would eventually serve as “vaccination centers” in New Jersey, in addition to the network of more than 200 smaller inoculation sites in the state.
Officials said the 30,000-square-foot Rockaway site would eventually be able to carry out 2,400 vaccinations a day, 7 days a week.
Currently, however, supplies are low and inoculations are limited to health workers and police and firefighters. About 100 people were due to be vaccinated in Rockaway on Friday. Persichilli said the site will be fully operational for the general public by May.
Officials blame the federal government for the slow supply of vaccines.
“I hope federal officials provide us with enough supplies sooner rather than later so we can make 2,400 a day,” Murphy told a news conference after touring Rockaway.
Still, Persicili called Friday a “day of hope.”
“As every first responder comes in to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated and join the health workers who have received theirs, we thank them not only for everything they do to save lives and protect our communities, but also because they are a role model for their belief in the safe and effective vaccines we have to help end the pandemic, ”Murphy said. “And when we’re ready to move on, this mega-site will be a place for the general public to come and get their vaccines.”
Jay Alderton, a firefighter and EMT in the nearby town of Morris, was the first to receive a shot in Rockaway.
“We are all used to charging in potentially dangerous situations, but COVID-19 has added a whole new layer of uncertainty and change to all of us,” Alderton said. “Even with all the precautions we take during our daily exposures – wearing masks, constantly sanitizing our equipment and stations, the extra time lost in receiving patients while putting on our PPE – there is still no guarantee that we will not we can only negotiate the virus, but the worse reality is that we could possibly take it home to our loved ones. “
The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of New Jersey’s eligible population – about 4.7 million people – by the end of May, which officials say is a daunting task.
So far, at least 137,829 doses of coronavirus vaccine have been given in New Jersey on Wednesday, just over three weeks after the first shots – although this may not be enough due to delays in reporting, officials said.
New Jersey received 572,250 doses and administered 155,458, according to current estimates by the Federal Centers for Disease Control.
The state applies the vaccine in stages. Currently, only those who work in healthcare and those in long-term care facilities and other living conditions, such as prisons, can be vaccinated in the group called “1a”.
On Thursday, police and firefighters became the first people in Group 1b to qualify for the vaccine. The state has not announced when more people in this group will be eligible.
“The phased introduction of New Jersey ensures that the limited vaccines we have will be distributed fairly,” Persici said on Friday.
CORONAVIR RESOURCES: Live map tracking | Bulletin | Homepage
There are about 650,000 health workers in the state, and Murphy said people in nursing homes should be fully vaccinated by early February. Officials said the vaccines should be available to the general public by April or May.
Officials stressed on Friday that New Jersey, like other states, is at the mercy of the federal government for vaccine supplies.
Asked if the state’s expansion was going according to plan, Murphy said: “We don’t have the supplies from federal agents we need. In the context of a large imbalance between supply and demand, I like everything we do in the country to prepare. But they do not have the doses they could use at full capacity. … This will take some time. “
The governor said this was complicated by the transition to power in Washington, as President-elect Joe Biden was preparing to replace President Donald Trump on January 20.
“I believe in the fullness of time, once we move the supply chain from Washington to the place, after we get a new administration and the handover takes place, I believe we will be in a much better place,” Murphy said.
New Jersey opened its online pre-registration portal on Tuesday so residents can receive the COVID-19 vaccine when eligibility extends beyond healthcare professionals and long-term care facilities. More than 450,000 people have registered, which sometimes overwhelms the system and leads to error messages.
On Thursday, the state reported a one-day record 6,314 new confirmed positive tests and another 123 confirmed deaths, as hospitalizations fell slightly for the first time since the New Year.
Since March, the state has reported 19,646 deaths from COVID-19 – 17,587 confirmed and 2,059 probable deaths from complications related to the virus.
“We’re not out of this yet,” Murphy said Friday. “I’m afraid the next few weeks will be really difficult. But there is no doubt that there is light at the end of the tunnel. “
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today for NJ.com
Matt Arco can be reached in email@example.com.
Brent Johnson can be reached in firstname.lastname@example.org.