New Jersey coronavirus update: Gov. Murphy says vaccination of those 65 and older to begin Thursday

Coronavirus Update New Jersey
NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Wednesday that the state will begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations to those 65 and older on Thursday, as well as to anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 who have medical conditions.

Also allowed to get the vaccine will be smokers, who Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli says are at significant risk for an adverse result from the coronavirus.

The announcement came one day after the Trump administration asked states to speed delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older and to others at high risk by no longer holding back the second dose of the two-dose shots.

"We were actually getting there on our own," Murphy said. "We had hospitals saying, 'Listen, we want to open up to beyond just our health care workers.' We were already working toward that objective, and the CDC's blessing, the incoming Biden administration support for this, all of those converge, and we are going to take that step shortly."

Those chronic conditions that allow for eligibility include:
--Cancer
--Chronic kidney disease
--Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
--Down syndrome
--Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy)
--Obesity and severe obesity
--Sickle cell disease
--Type 2 Diabetes
--Smokers

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Murphy said he hopes to have that entire group vaccinated by the end of February.

"I hope it isn't six months, I hope it isn't that long," he said. "There is conviction that wasn't there even a short while ago, that the supplies will be there. There is an enormous supply demand right now, which is your point, and is the right one and the fair one. The feds, both the current administration and the incoming administration, and our assessment is that will begin, and I say begin, it will balance out. I think you get through the next six to eight weeks, we are in a dramatically different place, and that will be good news."

Murphy said there are still no confirmed cases of the more contagious variant yet, but officials are acting under the assumption that it's present in the state.

"We've been assuming for several weeks it's in the state," he said. "It's hard to believe that it isn't. We are behaving as it is. The science is clear, more contagious, not more lethal, that says double down. The vaccines are great. They work. They are here. Double down on the stuff we know works."

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Murphy also toured one of New Jersey's vaccination sites Wednesday, as the state aims to ramp up distribution amid a spike in cases.

He and other officials visited the Bergen County Moderna COVID-19 vaccination site located on the campus of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center.

The site is designated as an "initial distribution point" for the Moderna vaccine and opened on December 28 to vaccinate Category 1A personnel.

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