Roll-Out of COVID-19 Vaccines in New Jersey
Pharmaceutical innovation has positioned the world to witness the beginning of the largest vaccination effort that humankind has ever seen. Vaccine doses for COVID-19 are arriving in New Jersey this week, and the first doses will be injected in the arms of frontline healthcare workers and seniors by the close of business today in Newark’s largest hospital. More important than today’s historic event, the current New Jersey plan to vaccinate 70 percent of the Garden State’s current eligible population is worth reviewing.
As the COVID-19 vaccines roll out, New Jersey plans to follow the Phased Approach framework crafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Under the CDC’s framework, the initial wave of vaccines will be administered first to healthcare personnel. More specifically, Phase 1A of New Jersey’s COVID-19 vaccination plan will include “any paid or unpaid persons serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials and are unable to work from home.” Examples of workers within healthcare settings who are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations during Phase 1A include, but are not limited to:
- Licensed healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists;
- Healthcare staff, including receptionists, janitors, clergy, mortuary services, and laboratory technicians;
- Consultants and per diem contractors who are not directly employed by a healthcare facility;
- Unpaid health professional students, trainees, volunteers, and essential caregivers;
- Community health workers, doulas, and public health professionals like Medical Reserve Corps;
- Personnel with variable venues such as EMS, paramedics, funeral staff, and autopsy workers; and
- Other paid or unpaid New Jerseyans who work in healthcare settings, who may have direct or indirect contact with infectious persons or materials, and who cannot work from home.
With initial supplies expected to fall short, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) established a protocol to assist acute care hospitals participating as Points of Dispensing (“PODs”) in determining which healthcare personnel will receive priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines. Under the protocol, acute care hospital-based PODs are responsible for vaccinating only their own personnel (paid and unpaid) during the first four weeks that vaccines are available to their facilities. The NJDOH directs these facilities to conduct the following procedures during that time:
- The facility identifies the universe of eligible paid and unpaid persons serving in the facility.
- The facility should categorize eligible persons by their risk of acquiring infection (higher, medium, lower; for example, the highest risk group would include those with the greatest likelihood of interfacing with COVID-19 known positive and COVID-19 unknown persons or materials).
- The facility should then survey its personnel who were interested in being vaccinated, with the expectation that all surveyed shall be eligible within 30 days, pending vaccine availability.
- If additional sub-prioritization is needed based on supply and demand, the facility should prioritize those who reside in areas of higher social vulnerability.
- Vaccine administration should start with those at highest risk and proceed stepwise to those with lowest risk.
As New Jersey receives more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, Phase 1B will see doses go to New Jerseyans who play key roles in keeping essential functions of society running and cannot socially distance in the workplace. This group would include, for example, emergency and law enforcement personnel not included in Phase 1A, food packaging and distribution workers, teachers and school staff, childcare providers, adults with high-risk medical conditions who possess risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness, and people 65 years of age or older. At this time, it is not clear how New Jersey will prioritize who will receive vaccines when there are not enough doses to serve all eligible Phase 1A and 1B persons.
Those not included in Phase 1A or 1B of New Jersey’s COVID-19 vaccination plan will likely have to wait for spring or summer 2021, when the vaccines are expected to be available more widely to the general public.
Should you require additional information on New Jersey’s rollout of the vaccine, or if you have any related questions, please contact Kevin G. Walsh of the firm’s Government & Regulatory Affairs Department.