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January 26, 2021

New Jersey COVID-19 vaccine call center flooded with tens of thousands of calls on first day

Thousands of people called New Jersey's COVID-19 vaccine hotline within hours of it going online Monday morning, Gov. Phil Murphy said. 

The toll-free hotline was set up to help people, who don't have computer access, register for vaccinations and get essential coronavirus information. Up until now, Murphy and state vaccine providers utilized online platforms for distributing this information, which impacted New Jerseyans who lack computer access or skills, reported.

This surge in calls also comes amid national vaccine shortages and slow distribution of the available inoculations, as well as overall confusion about the vaccination process in the state. New Jersey officials said the COVID-19 hotline received more than 17,000 calls during the first hour and 58,000 by noon, reported.

New Jersey residents can call the hotline at (855) 568-0545. The center is staffed with 250 agents from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., though the state plans to add more staff to better manage call volume.

Most of Monday's call-in questions were regarding vaccine eligibility and registration, finding local vaccination sites and general questions about the vaccine, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said. 

While residents can be added to the vaccine registry, which notifies those who signed up when they can schedule there COVID-19 vaccine appointments, an automated message on the hotline said agents themselves would not be scheduling appointments until later in this week.

Around 500 people were added to the state vaccine registry Monday, 6ABC reported.

As of Jan. 26, health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders, and high-risk individuals — including adults 65 and older — are eligible for inoculations.

When New Jersey was considering how to disseminate vaccine information to the public, many senior citizens pushed for leaders to consider their population's vulnerability to COVID-19 and that many seniors lack computer access or have trouble navigating the vaccine website, reported. About 80% of the state's COVID-19-related deaths have been among those 65 and older.

Demand for the vaccine is largely outweighing the current supply. The state receives around 100,000 doses weekly from the federal government, which has slowed vaccination rates, overall.

In Gloucester County, a megasite based at Rowan College had no appointments scheduled for Monday because its shipment of vaccines had not yet arrived, according to 6ABC.

"We continue to ask for patience; all we need are these doses," Murphy said. "We will get it there. We are ready to kick into high gear whenever our supply increases."

In Pennsylvania, Delaware County also opened its call center this week, which can be reached at (484) 276-2100. It is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. And in Philadelphia, residents can enter the vaccine registry online and will be notified when they are eligible for shots and when supply is in stock.

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