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N.J. likely to expand, simplify COVID vaccine booster eligibility soon, Murphy says – NJ.com

Gov. Phil Murphy hinted Monday that New Jersey will soon expand and simplify COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility rules to allow all residents 18 and older to get another shot, a step beyond current federal guidelines.

This comes as the state has seen daily coronavirus cases begin to rise again and as the holidays get closer, with Thanksgiving only 10 days away.

There are currently multiple sets of eligibility rules by age groups, jobs, and differences between brands in New Jersey. State officials acknowledge that can be confusing.

“You can expect we’re going to make this even more simple in the days ahead,” Murphy said during his latest COVID-19 briefing in Trenton. “We think this is a big step we can take with the holidays coming up. We need as many people boosted as possible, plain and simple.”

The remarks came shortly after New York City officials announced Monday they’re expanding eligibility to all adults in the city, following in the footsteps of California, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Currently, New Jersey follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance saying anyone 65 and older and those between the 18-64 years of age who have a higher chance of exposure due to a job or have a medical condition are eligible for booster shots of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines after six months of the first two shots. Anyone 18 and older who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is eligible for a booster after two months. Mixing and matching of boosters with initial doses is permitted.

That eligibility covers about 4 million of New Jersey’s 9 million residents.

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“But there’s not much, I’ll speak for myself, that’s preventing us from just saying, ‘You know what, if you’re six months out, or two months out in the J&J case, and you’re 18 and up, go get them,’” Murphy said. “You’ve probably read between the lines that’s kind of what I’m saying today.”

“We want to make sure we get this right, the governor added. “Obviously, we want to make sure the health and medical experts bless that. But you see what California, the direction they’re headed, Colorado, New York City, I think you can assume that that’s the direction we’re gonna be headed.”

About 24% of the state’s eligible residents — about 906,000 people — have received third doses or boosters so far, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday.

Persichilli warned that the immunity from initial vaccination has weakened because “protection decreases over time.” A booster would help, she said.

“We have seen this is an unrelenting virus,” the commissioner said. “So I strongly encourage all those eligible to make an appointment for a booster today.”

Murphy even appeared to endorse all New Jersey adults getting a booster now if they’re unsure of their eligibility.

“If you’re in doubt, get the darn booster,” he said. “We want to make this as simple as possible. Now Thanksgiving is bearing down on us. Getting as many people boosted between now and the holidays is really important.”

New Jersey on Monday reported another 1,147 COVID-19 cases and four confirmed deaths. The state’s seven-day average for confirmed positive tests increased to 1,386, up about 30% from a week ago and 5% from a month ago. That’s the first time the month-over-month comparison increased since Oct. 1.

The statewide rate of transmission increased to 1.04 after remaining at 1.0 over the weekend. Any transmission rate above 1 indicates that each infected person is passing the virus to at least one other person.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnsb01.

Matt Arco may be reached at marco@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewArco.

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