New Jersey hospitals are preparing to begin receiving the first shipments of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine as soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants an emergency use authorization to the company, Gov. Phil Murphy announced in a press conference on Friday.
According to Murphy, the state is anticipating that the first distribution will include 76,000 doses of the vaccine following clearance by the FDA, with additional shipments coming in weekly thereafter.
The vaccine, developed by Pfizer through a partnership with the German-based company BioNTech, requires two shots overall — an initial shot and a booster shot three weeks later — meaning that the 76,000 doses expected by the state would cover 38,000 individuals.
“This pre-positioning is important to ensure first the delivery and storage systems work and second to assist the federal government in expediting shipments and delivery,” Murphy said.
In mid-November, Pfizer released the initial results from its late-stage vaccine trials which showed it to be 95% effective in preventing moderate to severe cases of coronavirus with no serious side effects. The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee is currently scheduled to convene on Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer’s vaccine and its application for an emergency use authorization and make a recommendation to the FDA on its approval.
Overall, Murphy said that the state may be expecting somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 total doses from Pfizer in the month of December alone -- though he stressed that those numbers were not finalized and do not include potential doses from Moderna, which is also awaiting FDA clearance and showed a rate of effectiveness similar to that of the Pfizer vaccine.
On Wednesday, the United Kingdom’s drug regulatory body cleared Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use, becoming the first Western nation to authorize a coronavirus vaccine and indicating that a vaccine in the United States may be on the horizon.
To distribute coronavirus vaccines, New Jersey will follow a phased rollout to determine who will receive it first, with healthcare workers and individuals who live and work in long-term care facilities taking priority in the first phase when there is limited supply, according to federal guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday.
According to New Jersey’s interim COVID-19 vaccination plan, released in October, the state predicts it will take one million doses of a two-dose vaccine, like Pfizer’s, to fully innoculate the state’s healthcare workers.
Other groups included in the phase one distribution include essential workers, such as first responders and educators, as well as individuals at higher risk of serious COVID-19 infection.
When there is a “large amount” of supply available, the state will then merge into phase two of its vaccine distribution and will include individuals remaining from phase one as well as critical populations, a group that includes colleges and universities, and the general population -- which consists of all individuals who live, work or are educated in the state.
Phase three of the rollout will kick in as the demand for the vaccine begins to wane and will cover the remaining individuals from phase two.
Murphy also announced on Friday that he would sign an executive order which will automatically opt all New Jerseyans into the state’s immunization information system for the coronavirus vaccine. Murphy said that the system will help to ensure that the two-dose regimen is properly administered and reiterated that the order will not require residents to receive the vaccine, but rather will speed up the process for those who do want it.
“Let me be perfectly clear, this order does not force anyone to receive the vaccine, although we are going to be strongly recommending it assuming we put our good housekeeping stamp of approval on it,” Murphy said. “So we're doing this for a simple reason: to ensure that those who choose to receive a vaccine get the most effective course in the most streamlined manner possible on the proper timetable and without logistical or bureaucratic hurdles in the way.”
Currently, the timeline for when the vaccine could be available for all New Jersey residents remains unclear. But on Wednesday, Moncef Slaoui, head of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine initiative, projected that there will be enough vaccine doses for most Americans by June.
“Hopefully, by the middle of the year, I hope most Americans will have been immunized,” Slaoui told The Washington Post in a live-streamed event. “If enough people are immunized, we should have this pandemic under control in the second half of 2021.”
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @nickdotkerr.