New Jersey recently marked the one-year anniversary of the administration of the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in our state. As healthcare leaders, we have seen the difference vaccination has meant in the reduction of hospitalizations and deaths. New Jersey has become one of the most vaccinated states in the nation with more than 14 million doses of vaccine administered.1 This progress is a result of strong collaborations with healthcare providers, public health officials and local leaders.
In the next leg of the COVID-19 vaccination journey, the Department is focused on increasing the number of New Jersey residents who have received their booster vaccine to ensure they have the best protection possible.
By the Numbers
Everyone 16 and older who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is eligible for a booster shot. Individuals who received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago are eligible for a booster. Individuals who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago are eligible for a booster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone ages 16 years of age and older receives a booster vaccine. A booster is particularly important for older residents, those with underlying health conditions and individuals who live in long-term care settings because they are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
The greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to get infected and, therefore, transmit the virus. Fully vaccinated individuals can get infected with COVID-19, known as breakthrough infections, but this happens less often than it does in unvaccinated people. Although we have seen cases of breakthrough infections, the majority of individuals needing hospital care are not fully vaccinated.
More than 1.7 million residents have received their booster dose, but that remains well below the more that 4 million eligible. The largest uptake in boosters has been among those 65 years of age and older, accounting for more than 40 percent of booster vaccinations.2
“All of the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, but all show the need for boosters over time.”
All of the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, but all show the need for boosters over time. A recent study found vaccine effectiveness (primary series) against infection reduced over time for each vaccine brand. For the J&J vaccine: effectiveness of 86.4% in February decreased to 13.1% in October. For Moderna, effectiveness went from 89.2% in February to 58% in October. For Pfizer, effectiveness went from 86.9% in February to 43.3% in October.3 This lower effectiveness is likely due to the combination of decreasing protection as time passes, as well as the greater infectiousness of the Delta variant.
A study was conducted in Israel to examine the protection of the Pfizer booster dose among those 60 years of age and older. It found that rates of COVID-19 and severe illness were significantly lower among those who received a booster. Administration of booster doses for individuals 60 years and older resulted in 11.3 times reduction in confirmed infections and 19.5 times reduction in severe illness.4
Increasing the Uptake of Boosters
Given the added protection a booster can offer residents, the Department of Health is using several strategies to increase the uptake of boosters in the state. The Department is activating the existing network of approximately 2,000 providers who helped complete the primary vaccination to support booster rollout. Working with partners, the Department is reestablishing megasites and other large volume sites to increase accessibility. The Department is using our successful county ambassador program to work with local partners to boost uptake.
Additionally, the state’s vaccine call center is conducting outreach to residents to let them know they are eligible for the booster and answering questions about booster vaccines. The Department is activating outreach workers to provide on-the-ground education and navigation support in high-priority communities. To ensure residents are aware of the need to get boosted, we are also employing a multichannel, multilingual public-awareness campaign to provide education around broad eligibility and the benefit of boosters.
Healthcare professionals can help with the state’s efforts to increase booster uptake by recommending that their patients get boosted. When talking with patients, please share information about the decline in vaccine effectiveness over time and about how getting a booster can offer added protection against COVID-19.
The CDC has developed toolkits to assist providers in having conversations about the COVID-19 vaccine. These toolkits can help physicians to have a motivational conversation with patients as well as to help answer common questions patients may ask their healthcare professionals.5
With vaccine immunity waning over time and the continued threat of the Delta and Omicron variants, the Department encourages everyone to get their booster dose. Please join the Department of Health in this effort to increase booster uptake in our state.
New Jersey residents can find a booster appointment on the web or by phone:
NJ COVID-19 Hub: www.covid19.nj.gov
NJ Vaccination Call Center: 855-568-0545
To learn more about becoming a vaccine provider, visit the NJ Immunization Information System: www.NJIIS.NJ.gov.