9 things to know about getting a COVID vaccine in N.J.

As the coronavirus vaccine rollout continues in New Jersey, people have lots of questions about how and where to get a vaccine.

The rollout has been complicated by the lack of a streamlined way to get a vaccine appointment, with many locations being fully booked as supply remains dwarfed by the demand for the shots.

If you’re one of the millions of people in the state wondering how they can get a vaccine, here are 9 things you need to know.

1. Who is eligible for a vaccine in New Jersey?

The first people eligible for a vaccine in New Jersey were health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, classified as Phase 1a.

Then came police and fire personnel.

After that, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, the state last month opened up vaccines to more than 4 million people, including age 65 and over and people between the ages of 16 and 64 with certain medical conditions. Smokers of any age also became eligible.

The move confused and angered some groups, such as teachers and grocery workers, because they believed their groups would be eligible sooner, based on the state’s original classifications. The change meant some groups that were originally assigned to Phase 1c jumped ahead in line, passing by others, like teachers and grocery workers, who were assigned to Phase 1b but are still not eligible

Gov. Phil Murphy says anyone who lives, works or studies in New Jersey can get a vaccine here as long as they are part of an eligible group.

2. Who will be eligible next?

Murphy has said teachers will be “next up to bat,” but the state hasn’t given any timeframe.

“At the head of this list are our educators, so we can support our school districts in moving more quickly toward an in-person learning environment,” he said on Friday.

3. How can I book an appointment in New Jersey?

This has been a vexing problem for many residents, partly because there is no centralized system and there are numerous ways to book an appointment, including through the state or county or a private provider, including hospitals, medical groups, pharmacies and community centers.

Additionally, there has been a lot of confusion about the pre-registration site, called the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System (NJVSS), set up by the state. The site does not automatically make an appointment for you and you do not need to register to get a vaccine. The state site will send an email when you are eligible to sign up for a vaccine, and you then follow a link to a list of sites and hope there’s an available appointment. Many people have said they have either not heard from the site, even though they are now eligible or that they have not been able to get an appointment via the link.

But rather than wait to receive an email, the state provides a list of all the vaccine sites in the state that use the NJVSS. You can go online or try by phone to book an appointment at those sites on your own.

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Additionally, there are dozens and dozens of locations throughout the state, including hospitals and medical groups, that have their own appointment websites, so you can contact them directly also.

Most counties have their own sites, too. While Cape May, Middlesex and Somerset Counties use the state’s vaccine scheduling system, the 18 others have their own systems to book an appointment.

There are also six mega-sites run by the state. Five have their own registration systems:

Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic County

Moorestown Mall, Burlington County

New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center, Middlesex County

Rockaway Townsquare, Morris County

Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment Complex, Bergen County

The mega-site at Rowan College of South Jersey in Gloucester County is the only mega-site without its own registration system. You must go through the state’s site to make an appointment there.

Starting Feb. 11, CVS will start offering vaccines at some of its stores. Appointments will be available through the company’s website or by phone at (800) 746-7287 starting Feb. 9, the company said, as stores start to receive their supplies of vaccine. CVS has not yet released a list of store locations.

The state also has a hotline that’s expected to eventually offer appointments, but right now it’s just able to register people for the state’s site and give general information. That number is (855) 568-0545.

4. Can I go to any site in the state that offers vaccines?

While you can go to any of the mega-sites and most privately-run sites to book an appointment no matter where in the state you live, some county and municipal sites have residency and/or employment requirements.

When the vaccine rollout began, many of these locations would honor vaccine appointments for anyone regardless of residency, but since then, many are only serving their residents, a policy approved by the state Department of Health.

Some out-of-county people reported that county online systems gave them a reservation even after they entered a non-resident address, but they were turned away because of residency when they showed up at the sites.

So if you try to book an appointment away from home at a county or municipal site, make sure the site accepts people no matter where they live or work.

5. Why are so many vaccine places booked?

It’s a simple matter of supply and demand.

There are just more people who want a vaccine than there are doses available.

New Jersey is expecting to receive nearly 250,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccines the week of Feb. 7, the state’s top health official said Friday.

There have been 925,579 vaccine doses administered in New Jersey as of Friday, according to the state’s dashboard. That’s out of more than 1.48 million doses the state has received from the federal government as of Sunday, according to a running tally by the CDC.

6. Which vaccine will I get?

In most cases, you won’t have a choice. It will depend on what vaccine is provided at the site where you can find an appointment.

There are currently two vaccines approved by the federal government.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses given about 21 days apart and must be kept at ultra-cold storage temperatures. Not all vaccine locations have that kind of storage.

The Moderna vaccine also requires two doses, but given 28 days apart, and it doesn’t have the need for temperatures as cold as is required for the Pfizer vaccine.

Some locations have received only one kind of vaccine, while others have received both. Few sites let you know ahead of time which vaccine they are offering.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been approved, but has applied for emergency approval. The one-dose vaccine is expected to receive Emergency Use Authorization from the federal government in the weeks to come and may be available in March.

7. How do I get a second dose appointment?

The two currently vaccines available require two doses, ideally given 21 and 28 days after the first dose, depending on the brand.

The state Health Department has asked vaccine sites to make second dose appointments when people arrive to get their first dose, but this was not happening automatically at some sites at first.

But after concerns from many residents who said they were unable to get a second dose appointment, the state Health Department pressured providers to assign second doses automatically so people are not left hanging. Otherwise, sites are supposed to contact people over email or text with automatic second dose appointments or with information on how to get one. However, state officials stress that it is important for providers to schedule the second dose appointment when people get the first dose.

The state’s hotline is supposed to schedule second dose appointments in the future, but officials haven’t said when that will occur.

Federal and state officials have said it’s okay if the second dose isn’t exactly at 21 or 28 days after the first shot, depending on which vaccine you get.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said last month “there is no known loss of effectiveness of the second dose as long as someone receives the second dose within 60 days.”

Also in January, the CDC said people should get the second dose as close as possible to the recommended time frame, but if that’s “not feasible,” the second dose can be scheduled up to six weeks, or 42 days, after the first dose.

The World Health Organization also said the timing between doses can be from 21 to 42 days when necessary.

8. When can I go to my doctor or a local pharmacy for a vaccine?

It may be some time before doctor’s offices offer the vaccine. Again, there is more demand than supply is available at this time, but experts believe that may change when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available because it doesn’t require the same cold storage as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

People will be able to start booking appointments at CVS as early as Feb. 9, the company said Tuesday.

9. How much does it cost?

Nothing out of pocket.

Vaccine providers, in a deal negotiated with the CDC, agreed they would accept whatever payment insurance covers. People without insurance will not be charged at all and providers would be reimbursed by a federal program.

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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at KPriceMueller@NJAdvanceMedia.com.

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