Essex County, N.J. have the facilities, but not the doses of COVID-19 vaccine
by Andrew Garda
While not everyone is getting the COVID-19 vaccination as quickly as they would like, officials are cautiously optimistic that bottlenecks in New Jersey and Essex County could soon loosen up.
The speed, or lack thereof, is the result of a limited supply. Gov. Phil Murphy, during his Tuesday, Jan. 19, COVID-19 update, said the state has been getting about 100,000 doses of vaccine weekly, half from Pfizer and half from Moderna, but the numbers look to inch up in the coming weeks.
New Jersey recently opened up eligibility beyond its first cohort of health-care workers and long-term-care residents and staff. Now first-responders, people over 65 and people with serious health conditions are eligible — greatly increasing demand on scheduling systems.
Pfizer’s vaccine has been primarily used in hospitals, while the Moderna vaccine is what most people get through the county’s infrastructure. That means approximately 50,000 doses per week must be divided between the four current mega-sites, in Burlington, Gloucester, Middlesex and Morris counties, and 130 county-run and community-level sites.
Montclair residents, once approved and scheduled, are eligible to get vaccinated at the former Kmart on Prospect Avenue in West Orange. As of Tuesday, 800 Montclairians had been vaccinated, according to Mayor Sean Spiller.
Common frustrations at both the state and county levels is an inability to reserve appointments. People can register, but often are told that there are no appointments available. And they’re not given the option to register for several weeks out.
“We are opening up appointments based on the number of vaccine doses we receive because we believe it would be disingenuous to give someone an appointment [with] us not knowing if we have the dose to give them,” Essex County Public Information Director Anthony Puglisi said. “Definitely, the demand for the vaccines is greater than the supply. Our goal is to operate in a consistent manner so that we do not end up closing sites, as was seen in New York due to non-available vaccine supply.”
This is also a concern at the state level.
“We are asking the public to be patient because the supply of vaccines is limited,” N.J. Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “It may be some time before you receive an invitation to make an appointment, even if you are currently eligible.”
The state has a portal for scheduling vaccine appointments; counties and health systems have their own.
Puglisi said that if residents have issues with the EssexCOVID.org portal, they can contact the COVID Call Center at 973-877-8456. The volume of calls has been great, so officials request that residents be patient and try calling later if they have difficulty getting through.
Murphy said he hopes to soon open up vaccine eligibility to teachers as supplies ramp up.
That’s been one sticking point among many for the Montclair Education Association, which argues the district isn’t ready to reopen.
One million people have already pre-registered for the vaccine, with 388,000 already vaccinated. Essex County gave 14,520 shots in the first 14 days of vaccine distribution.