New Jersey Launches New Vaccination Vans to Bring Covid-19 Relief to Hard-to-Access People

What’s big and blue and could save hundreds of lives? The big blue vans that the New Jersey Department of Health is rolling out to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to residents who have been the hardest to reach.

With infection rates rising again across the state, especially in busy areas like Hudson County, where many people have not been able to schedule vaccination appointments online and do not have cars to get to vaccination centers, Governor Phil Murphy has used federal funds to buy three custom vehicles to get vaccines to people.

“They just arrived – three vans that will be outfitted with a full crew to go into communities and vaccinate people in about three weeks,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Friday. “Therefore, we are working with the major New Jersey health care systems to authorize these vans as acute care centers. … So look for big blue vans that go to the communities. We’re going to quickly put one up to test it so people get used to seeing the vans. “

They are hard to miss. In addition to their color and size, they have the words “Rapid Mobile Response Team” in large letters on the side.

The interior of custom vans.New Jersey Department of Health

Inside, the vans have partitions where vaccines can be administered and are customized with special coolers so vaccines can be transported safely, said Donna Leusner, a senior spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

“Three mobile units will be placed in the northern, central and southern parts of the state and will target underserved communities, including congregational settings, such as high-rise senior centers,” Leusner said in an email to NBC News.

Vaccination vans similar to these are also being used in Connecticut, California, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Virginia to get vaccines into the arms of hard-to-reach populations. And in Tennessee, the First Tennessee Development District Foundation is using more than $ 500,000 in grant funds to purchase and customize three vaccination vans similar to those in New Jersey.

While Tennessee’s vaccination vans will likely serve a largely rural population, a large proportion of the people targeted by New Jersey health officials live in crowded cities across the Hudson River from the New York City.

And they are in a race against time.

Public health experts have warned that New Jersey could experience a third wave of infections even as it has been increasing its vaccination programs.

“If there is a sustained trend of 7 and 14 days of increasing cases and a proportional increase in the positivity rate, it is practically on another wave,” Shereef Elnahal, executive director of University Hospital of Newark, NJ, told WNYC radio. .

New Jersey currently leads the nation in case rate, with nearly 46 per 100,000 residents, according to the Covid Act Now vaccine and risk tracker.

Nearly 16 percent of New Jersey residents have been fully vaccinated, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

But the proportion of black and Hispanic residents who have been vaccinated is much lower in New Jersey and other states, according to research compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The problem is especially acute in Hudson County, “which is the most diverse county in the state,” said Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly.

Currently, Hudson County has the lowest vaccination rate of any county in the state with 16 doses administered per 100 people. And that hasn’t gone unnoticed by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who urged Murphy to take more steps to vaccinate residents.

“With 672,000 residents, Hudson is the fourth most populous county in the state, but it is the 10th in the total number of vaccine doses administered,” Menendez wrote in a letter to Murphy on Monday. “Other counties have a rate of up to 33 doses administered per 100 residents. I am deeply concerned that Hudson County residents do not have equitable access to covid-19 vaccines. “

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