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March 01, 2021

New Jersey to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to teachers, essential workers

The expansion will be split into two parts over March

New Jersey will significantly expand the pool of residents eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines throughout March, thanks to a projected increase in weekly vaccine supplies. 

The expansion will be split into two waves over the next month, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

The first group, outlined below, will become eligible March 15.

Pre-K through high school teachers and support staff 
•Child care staffers in licensed, registered settings
•Transportation workers, including NJ Transit workers, airport employees, bus drivers, taxi drivers, rideshare operators and New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission employees
•Public safety employees, such as probation officers and fire safety inspectors
•Migrant farm workers
•Members of tribal communities
•People experiencing homelessness or living in shelters

The second wave, outlined below, will become eligible March 29.

•Food production, agriculture and food distribution workers
•Eldercare and support staff
•Warehousing and logistics employees
•Social services support staff
•Elections personnel
•Hospitality workers
•Medical supply chain employees
•Clergy members
•Judicial system employees
•Postal and shipping services workers

"Given the expectations of increased weekly shipments of vaccines as the month progresses, and especially as we head into April, we are confident in announcing this broadening of eligibilities now so that those who fall into these categories can know when they can step up to the plate," Murphy said.

New Jersey has administered more than 2 million COVID-19 vaccines, Murphy said. The state eclipsed the 1 million threshold in early February. 

Health care personnel, long-term care facility residents and staff, first responders, seniors and individuals with underlying health conditions already are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in New Jersey.

With educators being added, Murphy said he's hopeful that all school districts will return to in-person instruction next fall.

"We would fully expect, assuming things are going the direction they're going, that we will be in-person for school in September, and I will be very surprised and disappointed if we're not," Murphy said. "I think we will get there and are getting there, at a minimum in a hybrid format, but I hope even more full in-person, assuming we can do it safely and responsibly."

The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, applauded the state's decision to permit educators to begin receiving coronavirus shots later this month. The organization has consistently urged the state to prioritize teachers and school staff in its distribution of vaccines.

"Gov. Murphy’s announcement that he is adding educators to the vaccine priority list is an important step toward New Jersey's emergence from this pandemic," the union wrote in a statement. "With nearly 1.4 million students and over 200,000 adults, one out of every six New Jersey residents is connected directly to our public schools. Count the families they go home to and no institution in our state directly connects to more individuals than our public schools. The sooner educators are vaccinated, the sooner our entire state is safer."

The NJEA also called on the state to extend COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to higher education employees "who are equally as exposed and equally as critical to fully reopening our state for in-person instruction."

State officials have encouraged school districts to implement some in-person learning this academic year, if conditions deem it safe to do so. But the state also has provided flexibility for districts that have preferred all or some remote instruction.

More than 65% of public school districts, charter schools, renaissance schools and schools for students with disabilities are currently operating on a hybrid instruction model, Murphy said. The remaining 35% either have completely resumed in-person learning, operating completely remote, or using a mix of options across buildings. 

There have been 152 COVID-19 outbreaks and 737 cases linked to schools, according to the state's database. More than 40% of the outbreaks and more than one-third of the cases have occurred in South Jersey. 

President Joe Biden has called for all students in Kindergarten through eighth grade to be back in school five days as week by the end of April. He also have called for teachers to be prioritized for vaccines. 

Last month, the CDC revised its guidelines for reopening schools. The guidance identified five essential strategies: face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, sanitation and improving ventilation, and isolation and quarantines. Vaccines were considered an additional layer of prevention.

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