After expanding the people eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine as the deadly virus continues to spread in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy is defending the addition of smokers in the eligible millions while calling on more doses to become available.
"Our job is to focus on vaccinating vulnerable residents first," Murphy said at his Friday news briefing.
Starting Thursday, everyone over the age of 65, about 2 million smokers and people ages 16 to 64 with certain medical conditions became eligible to get COVID-19 vaccine doses. Previously, doses were only being given to health care workers, first responders and people at long-term care facilities.
On Friday, Murphy said the state is getting around 100,000 doses of the vaccine each week from the federal government. Vaccinating vulnerable residents first, especially those more prone to respiratory illness -- even smokers, is the priority.
"I must push back on the false narrative that we’re vaccinating smokers while not vaccinating another group," Murphy said.
"Our first priority must be to vaccinate those at higher risk due to age or other health factors that put them at a greater vulnerability for severe COVID," he said. "Our goal is to save every life possible through facts and science. Smoking puts someone at a higher risk of a more severe case of COVID. In this, we are in agreement with CDC guidance."
Murphy's administration is aiming to have nearly 5 million people, or about 70% of the adult population, vaccinated in six months.
There isn't enough supply to meet the demand right now. More people are requesting vaccinations than doses are available, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. She asked for patience as people clamor to get vaccinated.
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To date, more than 273,000 people in the state had received first doses of vaccines. Another 37,000-plus had gotten a second shot.
Once more supply is available, Murphy wants to open up vaccines to teachers and essential workers.
Murphy expressed hope that more doses will be released after President-elect Joe Biden takes office next week.
"What we need to end this divisive and unproductive debate is an increase in our vaccine supply," Murphy said. "For that, we need a federal administration that will unleash the process to meet demand."
The call for more vaccines comes as the virus spreads rapidly through the state.
New Jersey has reported thousands of daily cases everyday for weeks now. With more than 5,000 more confirmed PCR tests reported Friday, more than 555,000 cases have been reported since the start of the pandemic. There have been nearly 61,000 positive antigen tests reported.
More than 3,500 people were hospitalized going into Friday, with more than 600 in intensive care.
The Rate of transmission was at 1.11 as of Wednesday. The positivity rate as of Monday had dropped to 9.65%, with more than 70,000 tests administered that day, Murphy said.
At least 18,229 people have died from coronavirus-related complications, with another nearly 2,100 deaths suspected to be attributed to the virus.
Murphy also noted Friday a heightened worry heading into Inauguration Day, but that no specific threats exist. He said state workers will be working remotely Wednesday because of the “level of tension in the country."