COVID Update New Jersey: Governor Murphy defends decision to vaccinate smokers

Coronavirus Update New Jersey
NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- Governor Phil Murphy on Friday defended the decision to move smokers into the category now allowed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I must push back on the false narrative that we're vaccinating smokers while not vaccinating another group," he said. "We have a limited supply of vaccines from the federal government, roughly 100,000 additional doses coming in per week. 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 went on to say that COVID is a respiratory illness, which puts smokers at higher risk and thus puts them in compliance with CDC guidance.

"Let's be clear, in our new eligibility, we're vaccinating educators, transit workers, grocery store workers, and many other frontline workers," Murphy said. "I understand the optics here and that attacking folks who took up the habit of smoking and who are now addicted may be politically expedient."

He said the goal is to keep the hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, and vaccinating as many people as possible will help do that.

The state on Thursday opened up COVID-19 vaccinations to residents 65 and older, as well as those from 16 to 64 with serious medical conditions or who are smokers.

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Anthony Johnson reports on New Jersey's State of the State address.

Those chronic conditions that allow for eligibility include:
--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

"Expanding access to vaccine to individuals in these categories is critical, as we know they are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness and death," Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. "80% of COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey have been among those 65 and older, and overall 67% of deaths had one or more underlying conditions reported."

The governor attended the opening of another new vaccination mega-site Friday, this one in Edison in Middlesex County, being run by Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center.

The governor says he's encouraged about the vaccine becoming more available as the outgoing administration at the White House is working in coordination with the incoming Biden administration.

New Jersey has vaccinated 310,595 people, out of about 400,000 vaccines initially distributed to the state, according to Health Department data.

Murphy's administration is aiming to have nearly 5 million people, or about 70% of the adult population, vaccinated in six months.


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