Montclair, county plan for vaccine rollout
By ERIN ROLL
As Mountainside Hospital received its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17, Essex County announced it will be opening vaccination clinics next week and Montclair Health Department officials said it will hold microclinics beginning mid-January.
At a Montclair Town Hall with doctors, local and county officials, and representatives from the township’s Recovery Task Force, Health Department Director Sue Portuese said “it’s been a long road,” from the first case in March to the release of the vaccine this week. As of yesterday, 1,169 Montclairians had tested positive for the virus and 58 had succumbed to the illness. Over the last week, new daily positive tests were averaging 10 a day.
Statewide today, 4,319 new cases were reported, with state reporting 77 deaths and the hospital reporting 53 deaths. Essex County reported 568 new cases and nine new deaths yesterday.
In addition to mask wearing and social distancing, contact tracing is the best practice to slow the spread of COVID-19, health officials said.
All Montclair health department personnel have received training in contact tracing. “It’s all hands on deck.”
But not all residents are cooperating with contact tracing. “They tell us that they’ll give a call to their contacts,” Portuese said. State statistics show that 78 percent of people reached by contact tracers refuse to cooperate.
Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center began administering the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to frontline team members. Steven Sokolowski, Respiratory Therapist marked the historic occasion by receiving the first dose. Mountainside will administer 975 vaccinations from the first shipment of vaccines delivered to the hospital.
“This vaccine provides a sense of relief for our team members who have been on the frontlines since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Tim O’ Brien, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mountainside Medical Center. “By ensuring the safety and health of our team members and medical staff we can continue to take care of those impacted by this virus until the vaccine reaches the vast majority of the public.”
Sokolowski has been a part of Mountainside Medical Center’s Respiratory team for over two decades, and was one of five healthcare workers who got the first round of vaccinations today. “I’ve seen how a person can be affected by COVID-19,” Sokolowski states. “I took the vaccine because I want to protect myself and my family.”
Mountainside will be vaccinating front line team members and providers such as emergency, intensive care, medical/surgical staff as the highest priority recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine. This process will continue over weeks as shipments of the vaccine are received, officials said.
Health care workers and long-term care residents will be the first to get vaccinated against the virus. New Jersey however has a goal to vaccinate 70 percent of adults over the next six months.
The Montclair Health Department has registered as a vaccine site, and plans to start holding microclinics, most likely in mid-January. The microclinics will include a drive-through clinic, Portuese said.
Essex County is opening up five different sites for county residents to receive the vaccine, starting next week.
Montclair residents will be able to receive the vaccine at the former Kmart building on Prospect Street in West Orange. The timeline of the clinics depends on the outcome of the Moderna approval process, but it is expected that the county clinics, which will be for adults age 16 and up will open next week. The first vaccines in Phase 1A will be reserved for health care workers, followed by essential workers in Phase 1B. After those groups have been served, the general public will be allowed to receive shots.
Montclair will be sending staff from the health department, as well as the Montclair Police Department and the Office of Emergency Management to assist, township manager Tim Stafford said.
Residents will receive their first dose at their initial appointment, and will need to make a follow-up appointment to receive their second dose. Appointments can be made through the county’s COVID-19 website, EssexCOVID.org.
The Pfizer vaccine is primarily being distributed to hospitals, Essex County Health Officer Maya Lordo said, since they have the cold storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine. Local and county clinics are expected to receive the Moderna vaccine, which does not require cold chain storage.
Lordo said school employees who teach in Essex County but do not necessarily live in the county will be eligible to receive the vaccine through one of the county sites.
Dr. Valerie Allusson, the chief medical officer, announced that Mountainside had just received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine today, Dec. 17. She said that everyone in the hospital is encouraged to get the vaccine, including health care staff as well as patients with chronic conditions like diabetes.
Even with the vaccine, mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing will be necessary for the unseen future, health officials warn.
Dr. Zaza Cohen, of the department of pulmonology, said that all vaccines carry some degree of risk of a possible allergic reaction. Health officials anticipate a relatively small number of reactions, compared to the sheer number of people expected to receive the vaccine. However, he said, since a much larger group of people will be receiving the vaccine outside of those who received it in controlled studies, the effort will have to be carefully monitored.
Recipients of the vaccine will be monitored for any reactions for 15 minutes, or 30 if their health history requires it.
Allusson said pregnant or breastfeeding mothers can get the vaccine, but they are strongly urged to discuss it with their healthcare providers.
Allusson said that at the height of the pandemic in the spring, Mountainside was treating an average of 160 COVID-19 patients a day. Now, that number is down to 35 to 40 patients a day.
But statewide, hospitalizations are increasing overall. Last night 3,637 were hospitalized with COVID, and of those 726 were in ICU and 488 were on ventilators. On Dec. 7, hospitals had 3,481 patients, 670 in critical care and 422 ventilators in use.
Mountainside’s resources include designated COVID-19 units with negative pressure ventilation, and WiFi cameras in patient rooms to allow doctors to monitor patients.
Allusson also extended her thanks to community members who had meals delivered to hospital staff during the first wave of the pandemic, or sent cards and letters of support.
“We get to see the sickest of the sick patients,” Cohen.
The hospital is better equipped with tools and data at its disposal compared to the spring, he said.
MONTCLAIR TASK FORCE
This fall, Montclair established the recovery task force, as part of the township’s efforts to recover from the pandemic. Recovery Task Force co-chair Shante Palmer explained that the task force’s role will be to gather information and make recommendations to the township, and to marshal different community resources.
Mayor Sean Spiller, who hosted the town hall, thanked all of the participants and encouraged residents to continue with mask wearing and social distancing.
The Department of Health anticipates that the second COVID wave could peak in mid-January or early February. Gov. Phil Murphy has warned that the state would have no choice but to institute prior restrictions if the numbers over the next month indicate a worst-case scenario.
“We’re close, but we’re not there yet. We’re going to have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Spiller said.
Jaimie Julia Winters contributed to this report.