Final approval for one or more COVID-19 vaccines is probably still months away, but Gov. Phil Murphy says New Jersey is hard at work on an initial plan to distribute a vaccine — with a goal of inoculating 70% of the state adult population over six months.

During his latest coronavirus update on Monday — held virtually because of the governor's own recent exposure, and because of growing positive test numbers — Murphy said New Jersey’s Vaccine Task Force started to focus on issues of logistics, distribution, prioritization, public outreach and confidence building back in July.

Now, he said, those efforts are being stepped up “to provide equitable access to a vaccine, to provide maximum community protection.”

He said the first groups to get access to the vaccine will be “those at highest risk of infection — our vulnerable communities, and those for whom early inoculation would have the greatest benefit — and then build out from there.”

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State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine that will be delivered by the federal government will probably be small, and it “will be reserved for persons serving in health care settings who have potential for direct exposure, or for essential workers, or for individuals at risk, including those 65 and older.”

Murphy said in order to get 70% of the population vaccinated, efforts are underway to build “public trust in not just a COVID-19 vaccine, but in the vaccines that can protect residents from other potentially debilitating and deadly illnesses.”

Persichilli stressed the program to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine will be voluntary.

“There’s no indication that, nor do we anticipate that the vaccine will be mandatory,” she said. “What we’re hoping is through public awareness and education that people will make a choice to be vaccinated.”

Murphy said COVID vaccines will be distributed through “local health departments, federally qualified health centers, hospitals, medical, clinical and retail pharmacies. All of those groups will play a key role.”

The governor said efforts will be made to work with healthcare providers and key community influencers “to ensure information is put out in clear and concise language, recognizing the needs of our multi-cultural and multi-lingual residents.”

He noted recent polls indicate there is a lot of public skepticism about a COVID-19 vaccine and “we cannot let the online rumors and social media-driven conspiracy theories jeopardize our ability to build statewide immunity.”

Persichilli said New Jersey leaders "have to build trust across the state, including among healthcare providers, local public health vaccine providers and the vaccine recipients.”

She said efforts are already underway to build a network of stakeholders committed to safe, accessible COVID-19 vaccinations, including state and local lawmakers, local health departments, religious groups, the New Jersey Commission on American Indian Affair and hospital leaders.

"and we will also be talking to community partners, the education, business, law enforcement and medical professional associations," she said."

Murphy stressed “we are committed to building trust in the vaccines in all of our communities, and we will not wait until we receive the vaccines to start that process.”

He also said the state Health Department will closely review the science behind any vaccine or vaccines that are approved, to figure out which ones will be acceptable for New Jersey.

Murphy also said a multi-billion dollar federal funding package for a vaccination program, which is not part of any plan right now, is essential.

“If we do not receive any additional funds,” he said, “achieving a 70% vaccination rate will take many years if it even happens at all.”

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