March 3, 2021

Vaccines to Be Offered to Educators, Others

By Donald Gilpin

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday, March 1 that the state will be expanding vaccination eligibility later this month to include educators and staff in Pre-K through 12th grade settings, child care workers, and transportation workers, among others.

Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Barry Galasso applauded the news that teachers would soon be eligible for vaccination. “We’ve been advocating for them to get vaccines since vaccines became available,” he said. “I’ve written to the governor and told him specifically that schools are an integral part of getting the economy going, and the only way that can happen is if teachers feel comfortable coming into the buildings.”

He continued, “Vaccines are not a silver bullet, but they will give a number of teachers a level of comfort and safety. We sent out communications asking the Princeton community for support on this, and a number of people in the community have taken up that banner and advocated for this. We appreciate their support. Teachers being vaccinated is a great thing.”

New Jersey expects to receive an initial shipment of about 70,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved, one-dose vaccine this week to supplement the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently in use.  And, on March 2, federal officials announced that Merck & Co. would be teaming up with Johnson & Johnson in helping to produce the vaccine.

In addition, CVS and Rite-Aid will be allotted 22,500 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses this week through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, Murphy added, though the supplies for subsequent weeks are not certain.

“As the federal government continues to make more vaccine doses available, we are confident in our ability to expand our vaccination program to reach more of our essential workers and vulnerable  populations,” Murphy said.

“As vaccine supply increases, this phased expansion of new eligibility groups keeps New Jersey moving forward toward our goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the eligible adult population,” said New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) Commissioner Judith Persichilli.  She added, however, that delays in booking appointments may continue as vaccine demand continues to outpace the supply.

As of Tuesday morning, March 2, 2.1 million COVID vaccine doses had been administered in New Jersey, including 1.4 million first doses and 721,000 second doses.

In addition to teachers, child care workers, and transportation workers, public safety workers, migrant farm workers, tribal community members, and homeless individuals will also be eligible for vaccination starting on Monday, March 15. 

Beginning Monday, March 29, frontline essential workers in food production, eldercare, warehousing and logistics, social services support, elections, hospitality, medical supply, postal and shipping services, clergy, and the judicial system will become eligible for vaccination. Further information and preregistration are available at covid19.nj.gov/vaccine.

Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser noted that the Princeton Health Department, through its waitlist, had heard from almost 5,000 Princeton residents who are seeking a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 35 percent of those individuals have been vaccinated, many through the Princeton Health Department’s clinics.

The Health Department is continuing to draw from Princeton’s initial waitlist for those most at risk of severe health complications, but, Grosser noted, there are many Princeton residents who are in need of COVID-19 vaccines who have not reached out to the Health Department or may not be able to register online.

“We are asking residents to speak up on behalf of homebound seniors, isolated residents, or other population groups hesitant to inform our office they are interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” Grosser wrote in an email. Also, the Princeton Senior Resource Center has deployed “vaccine navigators” to assist those having difficulty navigating the vaccine search. 

“In the coming weeks, the Princeton Health Department is optimistic we will be receiving doses directly again,” said Grosser. “And our mission is to make sure anyone who wants the vaccine will be connected to a scheduled appointment, or that we will be able to provide a vaccine to them in the community at a mobile site.”

Residents seeking vaccinations should first register into the state system through the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System at covidvaccine.nj.gov. Princeton residents are encouraged to continue using individual portals such as CVS, RiteAid, and ShopRite to make vaccine appointments, as well as other COVID-19 vaccine locations at covid19.nj.gov.

A new Vaccinator Call Center at (856) 249-7007 is assisting New Jersey residents aged 75 and older with registration and scheduling appointments. Princeton residents can contact Princeton Human Services at humanservices@princetonnj.gov or (609) 688-2055 with technological issues or for assistance in Spanish or English.

The Princeton Senior Resource Center is seeking volunteers to assist older adults in navigating the scheduling process to secure vaccine appointments. Volunteers are also needed to work the registration tables in support of county vaccination efforts at the CURE Arena mega-site in Trenton. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Carla Servin at (609) 751-9699 ext. 118 or at vaccine@princetonsenior.org.

Although case numbers are diminishing, and vaccinations are increasing, Grosser noted that variants of the COVID-19 virus are causing concerns. Mutations, or changes to the virus’ genes, “were not unexpected, likely just overshadowed by everything else happening with the pandemic,” said Grosser.  “Most people know of mutations with the flu virus, which is why doctors recommend we get a flu vaccination each year.”

Grosser pointed out that there are multiple variants of the coronavirus that are different from the version first detected in China, with the first variant being detected in England in fall 2020 and others emerging from South America, California, and South Africa. 

“What has alarmed public health professionals about variants is the possibility that these mutations of the virus could contribute to things we don’t currently know,” he continued. “These variants could change things like treatment and prevention due to the way they spread and cause disease, and the big concern is how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are on new variants.”

Grosser continued, “Fortunately, if there are major mutations that occur, typically vaccine development processes can accommodate those changes. The good news is that for the new variants, no new prevention strategies are being suggested by the CDC. Residents should continue doing what they’re doing with mask wearing, physical distancing, and getting vaccinated against COVID-19.”

On Monday, March 1, the Princeton Health Department reported just 10 active positive COVID-19 cases in Princeton. There were 9 new cases in the previous seven days and just 11 new cases in the previous 14 days, both numbers far below the highest totals from December.

Princeton University, after considering a range of options, announced last week that it plans to hold its 2021 commencement outdoors at Princeton Stadium. The event will be held in compliance with social distancing and state public health protocols, the University said in a press release, and the University will be continuing to monitor the public health situation and state guidelines. “Should circumstances change significantly, we may need to pivot to a virtual commencement ceremony,” the University announcement stated.