New Jersey is in the process of drafting a vaccine distribution plan, so that it will be ready when a viable COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to the public. 

The announcement on Oct. 26 comes as New Jersey sees new COVID-19 case numbers exceed 1,000 a day. Saturday, Oct. 24, saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases at 1,994 since early May. 

The plan is intended to ensure that communities have equitable access to a vaccine, that the vaccine will provide maximum community protection and to help build public trust in the vaccine, said Gov. Phil Murphy and Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. 

New Jersey could see a vaccine approved for emergency authorized use by the end of this year or during the first quarter of next year, Murphy added. 

The vaccine plan has been in development since April, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was spiking in New Jersey. The plan development “kicked into high gear” in July, but Murphy emphasized that the current plan is by no means the final one. 

Persichilli said the state's goal is to have at least 70 percent of New Jersey's eligible adults receive the vaccine. She emphasized that receiving the vaccine is not mandatory, but she said she hoped many people would make the decision to get themselves vaccinated.

Two types of COVID-19 vaccine have been undergoing clinical trials in New Jersey this year. 

Murphy said that some public skepticism to a vaccine is largely driven by online rumors and social media misinformation campaigns. That skepticism, he said, could prove as deadly as the virus itself. 

State health officials will be working with local partners, including health care providers, elected officials, community leaders and faith groups to help distribute information about the vaccine. 

Murphy and Persichilli said the increase over the weekend is likely due in part to residents suffering from pandemic fatigue, and relaxing safeguards during indoor gatherings. A backlog of tests could be contributing to the increase. 

Murphy warned however, “everywhere you look, this is screaming out that we are in a surge.” 

Murphy pointed to a drive-by video of a watch party for the Rutgers vs. Michigan State football game, showing large numbers of people in very close proximity to each other. 

Today’s numbers

Health officials reported 1,223 new cases, compared to 1,182 on Oct. 22, the date of the previous press briefing. The positivity rate stands at 4.48 percent, compared to 5.28 percent on Oct. 22, and the virus transmission stands at 1.23, up from 1.17 on Oct. 22. 

Bergen, Essex, Union, Middlesex and Passaic all had more than 100 new cases apiece on Oct. 26, and Murphy said all of those counties have seen more than 100 new cases a day for several days. 

The northern region of New Jersey now has a positivity rate of 5.05 percent, compared to 3.58 in the central region and 4.36 percent in the southern region. 

Officials have also reported seven new deaths, down from 18 confirmed deaths on Oct. 22, bringing the overall total to 14,503. The number of probable deaths still stands at 1,789. Hospitals also reported 19 new deaths yesterday, which have not yet been confirmed as COVID-19 cases. 

Hospitals reported 948 patients as of Sunday night, Oct. 25, including 178 patients in critical care and 75 patients on ventilators, compared to 852 patients, 187 critical care patients and 74 ventilators on Oct. 21. 

Murphy urged residents not to let up on practicing social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands. 

“We don’t have a vaccine today. We don’t have a therapeutic today. All we’re left with is the simple stuff,” Murphy said. 

Essex County health officials reported 158 new cases on Oct. 26, compared to 161 on Oct. 25, bringing the total to 23,407. One new death was reported on Oct. 26, bringing the total to 1,912. The day before, the death count had been revised downward from 1,912 to 1,911. 

Montclair health officials reported three new cases on Oct. 26, up from two new cases the day before, bringing the total to 631. No additional deaths have been reported, and the total number of deaths remains at 57.