Ocean County officials agree that while opening up the COVID 19 vaccination to more of the public has its benefits, it also raises concerns over the supply of vaccine and the timely distribution.
“The bottom-line is we need all hands on deck,” said Ocean County Commissioner Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Health Department. “We need all of our hospitals, all of our pharmacies, all of our supermarkets, all of our doctors’ offices to be given the ability to deliver this vaccine to the public.”
“Government cannot accomplish this alone,” said the Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners Gary Quinn. “It has to be complete cooperation with all facets of the health care system.”
Ocean County has been told by the state and the federal government that more vaccines will be made available in the near future.
So far in Ocean County, the Ocean County Health Department has been the lead agency in providing the vaccine against COVID 19, having distributed about 5,000 shots of the Moderna vaccine at the RWJ Barnabas Health Care arena in Toms River. In addition, the vaccine is available at some supermarkets in the County and some health care providers.
“With almost 200,000 seniors living in Ocean County, the largest population of seniors in the state, we need far more distribution venues and certainly a much greater number of actual vaccines to accommodate everyone currently allowed to get it,” Little said. “As for now, we are urging our residents to be patient as we are working as quickly as possible to accomplish the task ahead of us.”
Since the state announced that starting on Jan. 14, all New Jersey residents age 65 and older, and all those aged 16 to 64 with chronic medical conditions (receiving the Pfizer vaccine) and aged 18 to 64 (receiving the Moderna vaccine) are eligible to get the COVID 19 vaccination, the volume of people attempting to schedule appointments on the health department website and calling the health department has escalated tremendously resulting in the temporary technical issues with the website and call center.
In response, additional call capacity is being put into place.
“We had 10,000 contacts within minutes after the announcement,” Little said. “There were 25,000 appointments that already were made taking us to the end of February.”
Ocean County has appealed to Gov. Murphy’s staff to require hospitals to expand the vaccine distribution in order to serve the public that can now get it.
“We need all our health care providers to be a part of this effort,” Little said. “Access to the vaccine needs to be everywhere.”
Ocean County Public Health Coordinator Daniel Regenye said as of Jan. 14 there are currently no appointments for the vaccine available through the health department.
“All of our slots are currently filled while we await more vaccine,” he said.
Regenye said the state announcement opening up the vaccines to a larger segment of the population while unanticipated to come so early in the distribution, was still welcome.
“We are averaging about 500 vaccinations a day at the arena at Toms River High School North and ramping up to give out 700 daily,” he said. “We can do more so long as we have more staff and more vaccine. We are just awaiting a timeline for its arrival.”
Regenye noted that once the state made its announcement, more than 100,000 people tried to make appointments on the county health department website.
“For every one person that was able to get an appointment, five or 10 couldn’t,” he said. “We are doing all we can to accommodate everyone but we need all health care providers, from hospitals to home health services to help.
“We need to do this just as we do our seasonal flu shot model with numerous distribution sites including food stores and pharmacies, doctors and urgent care,” he said.
Little noted that Ocean County continues to search for more nurses and medical professionals to help with vaccine distribution.
A second Ocean County Health Department vaccination clinic is expected to open at Southern Regional Middle School the week of Jan. 18. It is scheduled to be open Tuesdays and Saturdays.
“We want to do all we can to support Gov. Murphy’s plan to increase vaccination distribution,” Little said. “But we have to have access to the vaccine everywhere.”
Regenye said while the county is working to provide vaccines in a timely manner it also continues to do testing for the coronavirus and is working with long term care facilities to curb the spread of the virus.
Almost 350 tests a day are being performed at the Ocean County College drive thru testing site.
“We are very pleased with the work being accomplished by our Health Department, our Office of Emergency Management and all of our partners,” Little said. “We ask everyone to be patient at this time so we can get to everyone that wants a vaccine.”