For a vaccine rollout that works, look toward Essex County | Editorial

Posted Jan 31, 2021

We have passed the one-month mark for vaccine distribution, yet the rollout is getting more confusing and frustrating as the coronavirus continues its rampage across New Jersey.

Whereas some states have an effective, centralized sign-up system for appointments — not to mention lines filled with people who know they’re going to get jabbed before they return home — our state is overpopulated by desperate shut-ins chained to their laptops, wasting hours poking at a refresh button, and overwhelmed by futility when another day’s toil produces the same message:

But this fraught moment shouldn’t pass without noting that some Jersey places have handled vaccine distribution well, such as Joe DiVincenzo’s Essex County, where organization, resources, political clout, and volunteerism have turned the state’s hardest-hit county into a model for rollout.

The county executive says he is getting calls “from everywhere” to pick his brain, but he always starts with some variation of that John Wooden adage: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

“We started organizing in October, when we knew vaccines were going to be priorities 1, 2, and 3,” said DiVincenzo, who has five distribution sites, including an empty Sears and a vacant K-Mart. “So we worked hard on the website portal. We do mailings and robocalls. We wanted people to be engaged before they show up — even if they wanted to get the vaccine or not, they had to have the info to make the right choice.”

It was more than providence. It helps to have influence: Essex receives more doses than any other county — 11,000 last week. But you still have to get it into arms, and Essex has the infrastructure to distribute 25,000 per week if it had the supply. It also helps that DiVincenzo has “thousands” of volunteers available to work beside paid staff.

The Essex model has been so effective, Assembly minority leader Jon Bramnick, a Republican from Union County, suggests that “Joe D should go to Trenton and run the state distribution program — and I’m serious.”

But Essex is the outlier, as everyone else is waiting for ramp-ups on production.

It is a difficult calibration, but New Jersey could do a better job of allocating resources to places like Jersey City, which last week received its allotment of 500 doses on Monday at 9 AM and ran out by Wednesday afternoon.

City health director Stacey Flanagan says they manage to squeeze 12 doses out of vials that usually contain 10, but that’s untenable: They haven’t even finished the first round of jabs for all the city’s cops and health care workers yet. The 700 doses that Jersey’s second-largest city will receive tomorrow are already accounted for — by seniors on a waiting list.

Mayor Steve Fulop asks for 1,000 doses per week, but the state tells him it’s Hudson County’s call — and the county only gets 3,500, which is why its distribution rate is third-lowest (4.3 percent) in the state. His consternation peaked when the state refused to let him use the Jersey City Armory as a main distribution point because the activity would “damage the floor.”

You can’t blame any mayor pointing fingers and screaming from the rooftops. Consider Andre Sayegh of Paterson: His city exhausted its meager supply (700 doses) very quickly because unlike most places, it had welcomed interlopers: “We’re not turning people away – the virus doesn’t stop at the Clifton border,” the mayor said Thursday, a day before Paterson switched to an appointment platform.

But the Essex model shows what can be done once the supply ramps up, and that is cause for hope. New Jerseyans have gotten pretty good at staying patient after a year of this ordeal. Let’s do it a little while longer.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction

published this page in News and Politics 2021-02-01 03:57:48 -0800