Decision to prioritize smokers in COVID vaccine rollout draws complaints

With smokers now being listed as a priority for receiving COVID-19 vaccines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of increased risk from the virus, some New Jersey lawmakers are speaking out against the idea.
The lawmakers say that teachers and day care workers should be ahead of smokers instead.
State Assemblyman Brian Bergan says that smoking is a lifestyle choice that shouldn’t take precedence over essential workers, especially at a time when families are stressed over their children returning to school. He says that he has a lot of questions like how does someone even prove that they are a smoker.
“Let’s start with that. What is a smoker? You started smoking last week, are you a smoker? You smoked one cigar a year ago, are you a smoker? I mean the definition – it has nothing to do with your current state of health,” Bergen says.
As a former smoker, Bergen says that he understands the love for cigarettes. But he says that this is not worthy of skipping the line for a COVID vaccine.
New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy spoke on the issue on Thursday.
“I know that we are following the CDC guidelines and…that’s the group they think we should be working on and so we are taking their advice,” she said.
But Bergen says that he thinks that this is a cop-out.
“If you’re going to blame the CDC, I think that’s very poor. We pay a lot of people in the Department of Health to do a lot of thinking and I would hope that they would review it and do the right thing for us,” Bergen says.
Bergen’s office is drafting a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy in the hope of getting his administration to change its mind. The assemblyman says that maybe if the state Legislature were involved, it would overcome what he calls “this stupidity.”
"Obviously, we need our teachers, we need our transportation workers and there's a lot of good arguments for every single group that we're trying to figure out how we can make sure we can vaccinate the entire group that we are bringing up and looking to the CDC for guidance the whole time,’ Tammy Murphy said.
Bergen says that he not only wants to see teachers get vaccinated, but day care workers too.
"They literally are part of the engine that allows our economy to keep driving, because people can't go to work if their kids can't go to day care and these people should be prioritized. Mind-boggling that they're not already,” he says.
Bergen says that ideally, his office intends to send the letter to the governor as soon as Friday. He says that he is optimistic that the governor will act on it.