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Why NJ gives priority to 2 million smokers over some key workers for COVID-19 vaccines

New Jersey is allowing 2 million smokers nationwide to stand in line for the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a significant expansion of the state’s immunization program, which aims to inoculate 70% of the population by June.

Those 65 and older and people between the ages of 16 and 64 who have underlying medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes or obesity are also eligible to receive the shot, Gov. Phil Murphy announced earlier this week.

But the move to include smokers has raised eyebrows as groups of key workers such as teachers and transit workers remain inadmissible.

“I understand, I understand the optics here, and attackers who are used to smoking and who are now addicted may be politically appropriate,” Murphy said during a press briefing in Trenton on Friday, citing the need to save as much as possible. live as long as possible. “But we are currently stuck in a position where we need to prioritize limited, federal doses based on medical facts rather than political needs.”

Stephanie Silvera, an epidemiologist at Montclair State University, said smoking reduced the amount of oxygen that could enter a person’s lungs, putting them at greater risk of hospitalization or death from coronavirus. Addictive habit is one of the first risk factors for severe COVID-19, identified by public health researchers in China after the pandemic flourished in early 2020.

“If we want to reduce the number of hospitalized people because it’s better for society, because it’s better for health outcomes, then including smokers in that category actually makes a lot of sense,” Silvera said. According to her expert opinion, smokers should not be stigmatized; they cover all ages and professions, including teachers. She added that the incidence of smoking was higher among men, low-income people and the uninsured – all groups with the worst health outcomes with COVID-19.

“Taking a moral stance on who deserves to be vaccinated, based on what decision we make in our lives, if we start using it as an indicator of who deserves to be vaccinated, we start going down a very dangerous path,” she said. . .

However, some officials oppose setting smokers’ priorities, given the limited supply of vaccines by the state. New Jersey has administered more than 310,000 doses, according to its scoreboard. That’s a little less than half of the delivery the state received, according to the CDC. Before the state opened its doors to older and more medically vulnerable populations on Thursday, health workers, police and firefighters, as well as those housed in long-term care facilities and prisons, had the right to be shot. It is not yet clear whether vaping qualifies as smoking under the new expansion.

“Other states, such as New York, have prioritized faculty, and since the administration often follows in their footsteps, why don’t we do it here?” Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, a Republican from Monmouth, said in a statement.

So far, health officials in New Jersey do not require evidence of medical records for the list of acceptable health conditions and rely on a system of honors in more than 160 vaccination sites. All sites require an appointment.

But with more than 4 million eligible people and New Jersey receiving only about 100,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna per week, the biggest problem remains the lack of supply. Many sites were left without meetings hours after Murphy expanded the group of people eligible for the shot.

“The reality is that at the moment, the system is not even a place to play,” said Shauna Hudson, a professor of family medicine and public health at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Anyone living, working or studying in New Jersey can receive the vaccine when deemed acceptable, and can register on the state website here.

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