New Jersey leadership came under fire this week for failing to begin COVID-19 vaccinations at long-term care facilities.
The state was expected to begin its vaccinations at nursing homes Monday under the guidelines of the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program announced in the fall but admitted to missing a deadline to file paperwork, which will delay vaccine distribution among the vulnerable population until Dec. 28.
Through the FPP, states work with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to vaccinate those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Republican state legislators Sen. Jim Holzapfel, Assemblyman Greg McGuckin and Assemblyman John Catalano said in a news release Monday that the “embarrassing detail is the latest blemish for New Jersey’s trouble-plagued Department of Health.”
In an interview on Fox News Radio’s “Guy Benson Show,” former Gov. Chris Christie said current Gov. Phil Murphy’s missing of the deadline was a scandal.
“The health commissioner said, well, it’s a lot of paperwork. I mean, what more important could the government be doing than getting the vaccine to our seniors, 7,100 of whom have died just in the state of New Jersey,” Christie told the radio show Monday.
Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli addressed the missed deadline during Monday’s COVID-19 response briefing, saying the state’s desire to include as many eligible residents as possible and technology shortcomings in some of the facilities contributed to the late start, as well as a lack of necessary vaccines.
According to Persichilli, there are 1,800 eligible facilities in New Jersey, including long-term care, federally subsidized senior housing, state developmental facilities and group homes, and continuing care retirement communities, with about 125,000 people.
She said she is still awaiting word on how many facilities in the state will qualify, but long-term care facilities will be the first to receive doses next week.
The coronavirus has hit the elderly population of the state hardest, particularly among long-term care facilities where the virus tends to spread rapidly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged states to make sure residents at long-term care facilities are among the first to be vaccinated.
“By November 6, 2020, approximately 569,000-616,000 COVID-19 cases and 91,500 deaths were reported among LTCF residents and staff members in the United States, accounting for 39% of deaths nationwide,” the CDC noted Monday.
Persichilli said the CDC’s “strict rules” regarding when the long-term care vaccination program could be started further complicated the state’s process because New Jersey did not have enough vaccines on hand to meet the requirement of 50% of doses needed as a portion of its initial allocations are going to frontline staff at hospitals. She said the anticipated doses and shipments of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines keeps changing.
Murphy also declined to take responsibility for the missed deadline after being pushed by reporters Monday, noting that 37 other states are in the same situation.
“You have to accept it’s a little bit like we’ve been saying about the school year — it’s not a normal school year. This is not an easy, straight-line process. It is one of the most ambitious federal government initiatives ever undertaken. Folks have to understand that. We need our federal partners. They are going to be playing the existentially important role here, but it is not a straight line,” Murphy said.