Late last month, 103-year-old Mildred Clements made history as the first nursing home resident in New Jersey to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
On Monday, Clements finished the process, getting her second — and final — dose as state and national officials continue to face questions about the pace and availability of vaccinations.
Gov. Phil Murphy returned to Roosevelt Care Center in Old Bridge to see Clements, decked in a purple winter coat and large checkered scarf and seated in a wheelchair, complete her inoculation during a ceremony held in a tent outside the facility.
“Make sure she can pitch with that arm,” Murphy joked after a doctor injected the vaccine into Clements’ left arm. “Spring training is around the corner.”
The ceremony came exactly three weeks after Clements — who was a toddler during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic — became the first of New Jersey’s 83,000 long-term care residents to get their first dose. Vaccinations are expected to continue at long-term care centers through early next month, officials say.
“How are you?” state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli asked Clements after Monday’s shot.
“OK,” Clements replied.
“You are quite the celebrity now,” Persichilli said.
Esther Moodey, a nurse at Roosevelt, also received her second shot at Monday’s event. She told Murphy the only side effect she had after the first dose last month was a “little cough” for a few days. And she said her arm hurt only for a day.
“It’s exciting,” Moodey said of receiving the second dose.
More than 200 residents and staff members at Roosevelt received the first dose last month and are scheduled to receive the second shot Monday, said Bentzy Davidowitz, the facility’s administrator. None have experienced any issues, he said.
“We’ve had really tremendous success,” Davidowitz said.
Some residents and staff members have not been vaccinated at the site because they are hesitant or have received their shot elsewhere, he said.
The facility had no active coronavirus cases as of Monday morning, Davidowitz said.
Of the more than 20,000 New Jerseyans who have died from complications related to COVID-19 during the pandemic, more than 7,000 were residents and staff members at nursing homes and other long-term care centers.
The number of deaths at those facilities has been rising again at a steeper rate in recent months, with deaths at the state’s nursing homes nearly tripling in December. There are currently active outbreaks at 426 facilities, resulting in 6,802 active cases among residents and 7,368 among staffers.
The state started vaccinating long-term care residents and staffers last month — a week later than other states because officials missed the federal deadline to file paperwork by one day.
New Jersey has faced criticism for having a slower rollout than dozens of other states as it continues to deal with a second wave of the pandemic, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state has been doling out doses in phases but last week greatly expanded vaccine eligibility to residents 65 and older, those with chronic health conditions and smokers. More than 4 million New Jersey residents are now eligible.
Still, demand remains greater than supply, and residents are scrambling for scarce appointments.
Officials stress that the state is depending on the federal government for its supply. On Saturday, Murphy said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assured the state it would receive doses from its national reserve. But the Washington Post reported despite an announcement from President Donald Trump’s administration that more vaccines were being released, the country’s stockpile was already depleted.
Persichilli told reporters Monday morning that New Jersey is expecting only 100,000 doses each week for the next four weeks, though officials have said the state has the capacity to administer 470,000 a day.
“I can assure that second doses will be given on time,” the state health commissioner said before the event in Old Bridge. “But I can’t assure increasing numbers of people will be able to get their first dose.”
“We’re gonna stick with 100,000 for the next four weeks, allocate appropriately based on the throughput of some sites are busier than others, and hope that the Biden administration through the manufacturing pipeline finds more doses for it,” Persichilli added. “Because we really need it.”
At least 348,414 doses of the vaccine had been administered in New Jersey as of Sunday, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. Of those, 308,874 were the first of two doses people will receive, while 39,330 were the second.
Officials say the goal is to vaccinate 70% of New Jersey’s residents — or about 4.7 million people — by the end of May. More than 1.5 million residents have registered for the vaccine.
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