N.J. Opens Vaccines to 65 and Over, Those With Health Issues

(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey will expand Covid-19 vaccinations to people 65 years old and over and those ages 16 to 64 who have “health challenges,” Governor Phil Murphy said. The new group includes smokers, those who are obese, and people being treated for cancer, diabetes and kidney and cardiac disorders.

New Jersey set a six-month goal of immunizing 4.7 million people, about 70% of the population. The new eligibility means that at least 2 million people will have access to one of two Covid-19 vaccines starting on Thursday, officials said at a Trenton virus update.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday had recommended expanding eligibility to high-risk populations. Since Dec. 14, when the doses became available in New Jersey, the state has administered 264,481 doses, or less than 40% of the vaccines distributed. The vaccines until Thursday have been restricted to medical workers, first responders and residents of long-term health-care facilities.

Of New Jersey’s 18,070 lab-confirmed novel coronavirus deaths and 2,091 with a probable link, 80% have occurred in the 65-and-over population. Those who smoke and are obese are at increased risk of dying from the disease, as are people with serious conditions.

Those seeking vaccinations must have appointments, according to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. People with the following conditions are eligible: obesity, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, Down syndrome, sickle-cell disease and type 2 diabetes. Smokers also qualify. The state isn’t requiring documentation of the conditions, Persichilli said.

More than 1.2 million people have registered for vaccine appointments, Murphy said, and he urged that the latest group have patience during sign-ups at www.covid19.nj.gov/vaccine.

New Jersey Tuesday recorded 6,922 positive test results, a single-day state record, and 95 deaths. Tests run on Jan. 9 showed positivity at 13.53%, which Murphy called too high. The transmission rate, 1.10%, shows the virus is spreading.

Regarding vaccine supply on hand versus what’s been administered, Murphy in an earlier interview on CNBC said doses are set aside for CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. to give to nursing home residents through January.

“It looks like there’s a gap which in fact doesn’t exist,” Murphy said. “These are allocations for visits, for engagements, for appointments that they’ve made already for long-term care facilities.”

Still, Murphy on CNBC said the state has “an enormous supply-demand imbalance right now.” He said he was confident that the issue will ease with the incoming Joe Biden administration.

(Updates with eligibility starting in first paragraph)