‘The light is starting to break on the horizon’: COVID-19 vaccinations begin in NJ long-term care facilities

The first nursing home resident and staff member received the COVID-19 vaccine this morning, as Gov. Phil Murphy visited Roosevelt Care Center in Old Bridge, one of 291 long-term care facilities statewide set to receive vaccines.
The first resident to receive the vaccine was 103-year-old Mildred Clements, who just celebrated her birthday Christmas Eve. The first nurse to be vaccinated was mother of four Esther Moodley.
But a vaccine can't erase the staggering death toll: More than 7,200 residents and 125 staff members have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic struck.
Murphy said vaccinations are planned for more than 83,000 long-term care residents and staff by February. It's the start of a massive campaign to protect New Jersey's nursing homes and long-term care facilities. He compared the first vaccines at a long-term care facility to the dawn breaking after a dark night.
"Over the past nine months, our state has paid a tremendous price,” Murphy said. “We have gone through some dark times together as one New Jersey family, but the light is starting to break on the horizon, and our fight to end this pandemic has just started to kick into its highest gear yet. 2020 may be remembered by many as a lost year, but let's rally together and make sure 2021 is the year we get New Jersey back and moving ever forward."
The vaccination campaign is being implemented with the help of Walgreens and CVS. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said CVS and Walgreens employees will be the ones performing vaccinations in the long-term care facilities, as the state simply doesn't have the resources to do that many vaccines that quickly.
"This program will hopefully be the most effective step in our initiatives to protect the most vulnerable members of our long-term care communities – the residents and those who care for them," Persichilli said.
The state also started a week later than it wanted to on vaccinations in long-term care facilities, due to missing a federal deadline health officials and the governor blamed on shifting numbers of vaccine doses earmarked for New Jersey.
The Murphy administration has been criticized from the beginning of its handling of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities. A health department directive, nearly identical to one issued in New York state, said COVID-19 patients released from hospitals could not be blocked from returning to their homes in long-term care.
Republican GOP gubernatorial hopeful Doug Steinhardt says the governor should be "ashamed to show his face" at a long-term care facility.
Murphy said he will get the vaccine after more health care workers and long-term care residents have been vaccinated.