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TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli Oct. 27 announced the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, designed to provide equitable access to an approved vaccine(s), achieve maximum community protection, and build public trust in advance of an approved vaccine(s).
“The strategic and efficient deployment of a vaccine will be critical to our continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and is a key tool in our recovery,” stated Murphy. “While we will welcome one or more COVID-19 vaccines, we are not going to simply rush forward. We will be as methodical and deliberate in our approaches to a vaccination plan, as we have in every aspect of our responses over the past eight months.”
“The Department’s vaccine plan is expected to evolve over time as more details about vaccine availability, timelines, distribution, funding resources, and supplies are released,” stated Commissioner Persichilli. “Our aspirational goal for a wide-scale vaccination program for New Jersey is to vaccinate 70% of the adult population in a six-month period. The Department will follow the CDC guidance on prioritization and further allocation decisions will be made through a health equity lens.”
According to a release, New Jersey submitted its draft COVID-19 vaccination plan to the CDC Oct. 16. The plan calls for an all-of-government approach to a wide-scale vaccination program.
“To date, there is no globally approved COVID-19 vaccine. However, there is an expectation that a vaccine will become available either by the end of the year or the first quarter of next year under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) pre-approval,” added Persichilli.
An EUA allows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to facilitate the availability of unapproved medical product to be used to prevent serious or life-threatening diseases when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives. The FDA may issue an emergency use authorization for one or more COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the year or the first quarter of next year.
Several vaccines are in Phase 3 clinical trials. Some of the vaccines will require a two-dose regimen, 21-28 days apart.
The initial allotment of vaccine to states is expected to be limited. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has drafted recommendations for the first phase of the vaccination effort, prioritizing health care workers who have the potential for direct exposure and essential workers and individuals at risk, including those 65 and older. It will be up to states to determine the final allocation.
The Department of Health anticipates that by following initial rounds of distribution, there will be enough supply to meet demand during Phase II. Phase III will allow open access to the vaccine. How many vaccines New Jersey will receive will depend on several factors, including the population of essential and healthcare workers, current spread or prevalence of the disease, and vaccine(s) availability.
The Department of Health has been working to ensure an equitable wide-scale vaccination program since July and established the New Jersey Department of Heath COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, with nine teams. The Task Force is chaired by Dr. David Adinaro, deputy commissioner for Public Health Services.
“While this is a statewide coordinated plan, it will be implemented locally and so the Task Force is focused on working collaboratively with local and county health departments and numerous other partners in this process,” stated Deputy Commissioner for Public Health Services Dr. Adinaro. “This effort will help ensure all voices are heard in developing and implementing this program.”
In addition, a Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) meets weekly to monitor the progress of vaccines development and ensure that all discussions are made through the lens of equity.
Commissioner Persichilli convened the PAC, in March, to provide guidance to the Department to ensure that its COVID-19 response is based on the latest scientific, medical, ethical, and public health evidence. The 28 public members and its subcommittees include healthcare leaders, academics, infectious and chronic disease healthcare practitioners, former commissioners, epidemiologists, quality experts, local health and equity leaders and ethicists representing geographic, demographic, and professional diversity.
The PAC is chaired by former Deputy Commissioner and State Epidemiologist Dr. Eddy Bresnitz. After leaving the Department, he spent nearly a decade at Merck, in Global Vaccine Medical Affairs.
“The multi-disciplinary PAC team has been working diligently to incorporate the recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) on allocation of vaccine(s) to the people in the state,” stated Dr. Bresnitz.
The nine focus areas of the Department’s Vaccine Task Force are:
- Logistics & PODs or points of dispensing/delivery including local partnerships, state & mobile sites; cold chain management and PPE & supply requirements
- Federal interoperability, IT & data flow management to monitor & track all doses delivered and administered
- Specific Population Planning for vulnerable, high risk & essential workers
- Enabling Policies for directives or other regulatory or policy tools
- Management & Administration for workforce, contracting and budgeting
- Analytics & Reporting
- Strategic Communication
- Public Confidence to include stakeholder calls, bringing up a call center for questions & a public awareness campaign
- Flu vaccination. During the last flu season, 50% of the population in the state received the vaccine.
The Department of Health reminds the public that information about COVID-19 and the vaccines currently in development is still evolving, and that the Department will continue to release information as it becomes available. The Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccination plan has been partly informed by the state’s experience with pandemic influenza vaccination during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
The Department has a COVID-19 Vaccination webpage that includes FAQs, the COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, and an executive summary of the plan.