By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

It’s not just teachers.

New Jersey will open up coronavirus vaccine eligibility to several  cohorts on March 15: pre-K through 12th-grade educators and support staff, childcare workers in licensed and registered settings, migrant farm workers, members of tribal communities and those experiencing homelessness.

Then, on March 29, eligibility will open further, to those involved in food production, eldercare support, warehouse work, social services, elections, hospitality, medical supply chains, postal delivery and shipping, clergy and the judicial system. 

The expansion comes as New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson saw its coronavirus vaccine receive emergency use authorization from the FDA over the weekend, with New Jersey slated to get about 70,000 doses of the one-shot vaccine over the next week. Murphy said the state doesn’t yet know how many doses it will get in the coming weeks. CVS and Rite-Aid in New Jersey are slated to get an additional 22,500 Johnson & Johnson doses this week for their own distribution, as part of a federal partnership.

“This is a game-changer in our fight to get more shots in arms,” Murphy said.

The simplified regimen — existing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, spaced a few weeks apart — is particularly valuable for serving homeless populations, Michele Kroeze, business manager at the Salvation Army’s Montclair Citadel, said.

“Most of the people that we serve, we serve very regularly,” she said. But she cited the example of February’s severe snowstorms. “Maybe they were here one day, and then maybe they had a place they could go during the snowstorm — and if that had been their second vaccine, they might have missed it.”

Kroeze sees the availability of vaccines to homeless populations — including those who live in shelters, like the Citadel’s Cornerstone House Shelter, as a “very good thing — a very necessary thing.” But Kroeze would have also liked to have seen the frontline workers who serve homeless populations made eligible much earlier. They’ll be among those who become eligible March 29. 

“There have been working with the homeless throughout COVID. They should have been prioritized,” she said.

Cornerstone and the Trinity Place community center have avoided coronavirus outbreaks, testing people for the virus on intake and setting them up in motel rooms or elsewhere as needed to limit exposure, Kroeze said. But five managers rotate at Cornerstone, and six people distribute food at Trinity Place, with staff working seven days a week, she said. The previously overnight-only shelter has expanded to the daytime. All of that, she said, steps up the potential exposure for both the homeless population and those working to help them.

Case management has been handled through glass windows, or even outdoors in good weather, she said. A quarantine room was set aside, but even in the year since New Jersey saw its first cases, it hasn’t yet been used, Kroeze said.

Since the start of New Jersey’s vaccination distribution, Murphy has said there’s more need than federal supplies can support — and more statewide infrastructure to provide vaccinations than the supplies can saturate. He said Monday that remains true, even as each upcoming phase of expansion opens the vaccine to hundreds of thousands more people.

The governor also stressed many of those people may have been eligible previously because of their age, medical conditions or other work.