New Jersey is prioritizing cigarette smokers for COVID-19 vaccines because of their risk of severe disease

smoking face mask coronavirus

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Officials are scrambling to speed-up COVID-19 vaccinations across the US, but a complicated set of guidelines regarding who should get priority have stymied states’ efforts to maximize the number of shots in arms. 

In order to accelerate the rollout, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that states should expand the pool of people who have priority access. That pool should now include Americans between the ages of 16 and 64 who have certain underlying health issues that increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19, he said.

As a result, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy announced that the state will extend vaccine eligibility per Azar’s recommendations starting Thursday.

The decision will bump the state’s two million cigarette smokers to the front of the vaccine line, alongside people with other high-risk medical conditions, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

“Nicotine is one of the most powerful addictions. Smoking put individuals at higher risk for more severe disease. If an individual who smokes gets COVID, they get sicker much quicker,” Donna Leusner, director of communications for the state department of health, said in a statement Thursday.

“Our goal is to save as many lives as possible and to promote vaccination among the highest risk groups,” she added. 

In NJ, smokers can get vaccinated before teachers 

New Jersey’s decision to expand its vaccine priority pool means that smokers are now eligible to get vaccinated alongside healthcare workers, police officers and firefighters, and residents age 65 and older. 

The move also catapults people with a history or current practice of smoking cigarettes ahead of teachers and public transportation employees in the state.

Per CDC guidelines, essential workers should be among those next in line, though ultimately individual states decide how to distribute their vaccine allotments. States like New York are already vaccinating teachers.

Governor Murphy’s announcement sparked an outcry on social media, with people pointing out that smokers now have elevated priority over essential workers, who are disproportionately people of color.

So 2 million smokers in New Jersey can get the vaccine before my wife who is a teacher that is required to teach four full days a week in person??

— Joel Eden, PhD (@joeleden) January 14, 2021

According to Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease epidemiology, prevention, and control for the Minnesota Department of Health, expanding the priority pool may be more trouble than it’s worth.

“There would be some gains in efficiency, but there would be significant losses” in terms of vaccine equity and racial justice, she told STAT.

No proof required

NJ Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said in a press conference Wednesday that the state will not ask for proof that people smoke if they show up for a shot. 

“No documentation of the medical condition or your age will be required,” she said. 

Twitter users joked that the lax guidelines surrounding New Jersey’s new vaccine eligibility presented an easy opportunity to get vaccinated.

I never thought I’d say this but… Let’s pick up a pack of cigs …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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