TOMS RIVER – Ocean County officials are coping with the pros and cons of increasing coronavirus vaccination to the population.
Thus far, the Ocean County Health Department has distributed about 5,000 shots of the Moderna vaccine at the RWJ Barnabas Health Care Arena on the campus of Toms River High School North.
A second OCHD vaccination clinic in the county will be opening up during the week of January 18 at Southern Regional Middle School. It is scheduled to be open on Tuesdays and Saturdays going forward.
The vaccine is also available at some supermarkets in the County and some health care providers.
Gerry P. Little, the deputy director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners noted that while opening up COVID-19 vaccination to more residents has its benefits, it also raises concerns over vaccine supplies and their distribution in a timely fashion.
Little who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Health Department said, “the bottom line is we need all hands on deck. 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. It has to be complete cooperation with all facets of the health care system,” said Gary Quinn, Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
The state and federal government informed Ocean County that more vaccines will be made available in the near future.
Little noted that 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. 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.”
As of January 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.
To meet the demand, 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.”
The County has appealed to Governor Phil Murphy’s Office to require hospitals to expand the vaccine distribution in order to serve the public that can now receive it.
“We need all our health care providers to be a part of this effort. Access to the vaccine needs to be everywhere,” Little added.
Ocean County Public Health Coordinator Daniel Regenye said 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.
“We are averaging about 500 vaccinations a day at the arena at Toms River High School North and ramping up to give out 700 vaccinations daily. We can do more so long as we have more staff and more vaccine. We are just awaiting a timeline for its arrival,” Regenye added.
Regenye said 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. We are doing all we can to accommodate everyone but we need all health care providers, from hospitals to home health services to help.”
He compared it to the way the department addresses “our seasonal flu shot model with numerous distribution sites including food stores and pharmacies, doctors and urgent care.”
More nurses and medical professionals are needed, Little said.
Little said that the county wants to do all it can to support the governor’s plan to increase vaccine distribution “but we have to have access to the vaccine everywhere.”
Regenye added that while the county is working to provide vaccines in a speedy manner it also continues to do testing for the coronavirus and is working with long term care facilities to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The County’s drive thru testing site at Ocean County College in Toms River is seeing around 350 tests daily being performed.
“We are very pleased with the work being accomplished by our Health Department, our Office of Emergency Management and all of our partners. We ask everyone to be patient at this time so we can get to everyone that wants a vaccine,” Little said.