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COURT HOUSE - The county's Covid numbers improved significantly this week (April 6-12). Active cases are down, and over 31,000 county individuals were fully vaccinated, up from 21,000 at the beginning of April.  

Based on the state Covid dashboard statistics, total county administration of vaccine doses doubled in the first 12 days of April compared to totals March 30. 

The state is about to open eligibility to all individuals over the age of 16, beginning April 19. That move may help address recent caseload growth among younger adults.  

The federal government April 13 called for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they are calling for an immediate halt on the single-dose vaccine due to blood clots appearing in a small number of cases two weeks after it was administered. This news comes as eligibility pools are expanding.  

New Jersey numbers show 96% of vaccine doses administered in Cape May County were either Pfizer or Moderna.  

With over 40,000 first shots administered to those not yet fully vaccinated, the county's number in the weeks ahead is set for growth in the fully vaccinated portion of the population.  

Other news on the vaccine front this week includes the request by Pfizer to have the FDA approve its vaccine for children ages 12 to 15. The company maintains that clinical trials show the vaccine is safe for younger adolescents. 

The pipeline continues to grow, as vaccine manufacture and distribution benefits from assembly lines running 24/7. The Pfizer vaccine is shipped from a 2,000-acre company campus in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while Moderna’s vials are packaged and shipped out of Bloomington, Vermont, where five shifts of employees keep the assembly line running without interruption. 

The race has been on to vaccinate as many individuals as possible, as a means of slowing the spread of the virusthereby hampering its ability to mutate into new variants.  

State numbers show the B.1.1.7 variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, continues to account for a higher number of confirmed cases in New Jersey this past week.  

Over 800 cases were identified in New Jersey, up from 165 one month ago. The variant is the only one the state dashboard shows as present in the county, with 22 confirmed cases. 

As eligibility expands and the pipeline of doses grows, a subset of Americans remains skeptical of the vaccines and present a significant hurdle to achieving high levels of population immunity.  

Polls show that a persistent 20% of Americans say they will not seek the vaccine unless required to do so by employers or schools. 

In New Jersey, Rutgers University became the largest academic institution to say it will require students to get the vaccine. Several large employers are considering similar actions.  

A late-March poll, released by Stockton University, had 30% of those surveyed say they would not, or probably would not, seek the vaccine. The poll showed a strong partisan divide, where many who identified as Republican said they did not trust the vaccines or that vaccination was unnecessary.  

In the poll, 15% of Democrats said they would not get the vaccine compared to 52% of Republicans. No polling data is available at the county level.  

CDC experts argue that the growth in cases with variants, especially the U.K. variant, is partly due to overconfidence, given the recent declines in numbers since January’s peaks and reports of more individuals receiving the vaccine.  

These health officials fear Americans will let their guard down before the vaccine program can expand to larger percentages of the population.  

Even the state numbers regarding variant cases may be significantly underreporting the spread, given that the health department is sequencing only a percentage of cases to check for variants.  

The news is promising this week, but the message from health officials is to stay alert, stick to health protocols, and get vaccinated. 

Judith Persichilli, commissioners, New Jersey Department of Health, issued a statement following the calls for states to stop administerting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine:

"Out of an abundance of caution and following the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the New Jersey Department of Health this morning paused the administration of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine across all vaccination sites in the state.

"The CDC and the FDA are reviewing the data involving six reported cases—among nearly 7 million doses administered in the U.S.—in women between the ages of 18 and 48 who received the J&J vaccine. Symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets. Both the CDC and FDA have said that these adverse events are extremely rare. According to the FDA and CDC, individuals who have received the vaccine and develop abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath, severe headache or other unusual symptoms within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.

"All New Jersey vaccination sites have been told to cancel or put on hold appointments for the J&J vaccine until further notice. For individuals scheduled to receive the J&J vaccine, the Department will work with all vaccination sites to make arrangements for the administration of an alternative two-dose vaccine. We will work with all sites, as needed, to reschedule vaccination appointments.

"The Department will await further guidance from the federal government. The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss these adverse events and make recommendations to the CDC on how to proceed."

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.