After a slow start, New Jersey is doing an average job of COVID-19 vaccination — just going by the overall numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of last Thursday, the state had administered 1.5 million vaccine doses, 83% of the 1.8 million it had received from manufacturers through the federal government. That was enough for 4.6% of the N.J. population to be immunized with two doses of the vaccine, and 12% to get at least one dose.
But not enough vaccinations in New Jersey are going to the elderly population most at risk. Only 35% of the vaccine has gone to people 65 and older, even though they account for nearly 80% of COVID-19 deaths.
Part of the reason for this is that Gov. Phil Murphy chose to decide the order that groups of residents would get access to vaccinations. Some of his choices have been sensible, such as immunizing health care workers to keep the industry strong in the pandemic. But others — such as last week’s announcement that teachers are “next up to bat” for the shots — have no basis in science. The teachers union has been one of Murphy’s biggest supporters.
Worse, vaccine distribution in New Jersey not only gives the Murphy administration sole power to decide who should get the life-saving vaccine next, the system is designed to allow widespread cheating on the part of those seeking vaccination appointments. And cheats are well-rewarded, by eliminating their risk of illness and death from COVID-19.
Reports of hospital administrators and donors jumping the line are the least of it. No vaccine recipients are asked to demonstrate, for example, that they are an emergency medical technician. Or that they are a smoker, another group given the green light to immunization by the governor.
The reason is twofold. One, the state’s inability to process information as competently as a typical American corporation — shown to tragic effect in its vaccination appointment hotline and unemployment benefits debacles — makes overseeing a complex priority list impossible.
Another is that any attempt to ensure that Murphy’s vaccine priorities are followed would slow the already challenged distribution system further. Speed is needed to knock back coronavirus infections and make sure vaccine doesn’t expire before it’s used.
Medical ethicists acknowledge that cheating to get the vaccine early costs lives among those who are more at risk and delayed in getting vaccinated by those jumping in line ahead of them.
There could be many thousands of line jumpers — there is also no effort to determine the amount of cheating.
Widespread cheating is unavoidable in a system prioritizing groups based on Murphy’s preferences.
There was a much more effective and fairer way to distribute COVID vaccinations: Give the shots out based on age, and age alone.
COVID mortality overwhelmingly matches up with age. Of the 460,000 U.S. deaths from COVID as of Friday, 427,000 of them were among people 55 and older. And among these seniors, risk rises dramatically with each five-year increase in age.
A system of vaccinating New Jersey residents in reverse order of age would have been simple and easily verifiable — and would have saved the most lives. If the Democrats running the Legislature were doing their jobs and asserting the interests of those who elected them, perhaps we would have had that more efficient and effective system.