New COVID-19 cases in NJ are averaging the same amount as they were back in April 2020—around 3,000 new cases per day. While this figure is still scarily large, the peak of almost 8,000 new cases on January 18, 2021, perfectly represents the enduring struggle of this pandemic winter. But that fall from 8,000 to 3,000 in only one month is attributed to the rollout of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines across the state. As of February 8, 114,998 doses have been administered in Bergen County, and in Ridgewood specifically, residents within the first phase of vaccine administration have been able to get their shots.
In comparison to other municipalities in NJ, the existence of Ridgewood’s independent health department helped the Ridgewood government receive verification from the state to run “local” COVID-19 vaccine clinics, which are being run at Valley Hospital and the Village Hall. Where things have become complicated, however, is with receiving the vaccine doses—disconnect and a limited supply of doses across the state, county, and local governments have led to the end of vaccine dose distribution directly to Ridgewood clinics.
The Bergen County government receives doses from the NJ state government; these doses are then administered at county-operated clinics. Local clinics, like the ones in Ridgewood, were placing vaccine orders directly with the NJ state government in December 2020 and January 2021, until the state changed its vaccine distribution policy. In an E-Notice sent to Ridgewood residents on February 7, 2021, village manager Heather Mailander wrote that “on January 19, as the Ridgewood Health Department was planning to advertise [vaccination] to eligible members of the public, the State of NJ abruptly changed course and determined vaccines would be allocated exclusively to counties rather than using a direct local order approach.” One of the reasons for this changed policy is that the supply of doses being sent to the state from the federal government is limited. Because of the changed policy, the number of vaccines that Ridgewood clinics will receive into the future is uncertain. According to Mailander, the Bergen County government has determined that they will retain all vaccine doses administered by the state and will not distribute those doses to the local health departments of municipalities within the county. Writing on behalf of the Village of Ridgewood, Mailander disagreed, arguing that the state should distribute vaccine doses to both counties and municipalities, not just counties. In the meantime, she urges Ridgewood residents to “seek appointments elsewhere, until a more predictable system of vaccine delivery to the Ridgewood clinic is established.” There is a county-run clinic in Paramus.
Some senior citizens, part of the first vaccination phase, have had difficulty reaching vaccination sites farther away, and also have had trouble registering for vaccines online. Ridgewood mayor Susan Knudsen has echoed this fact, saying that elderly Ridgewood residents or residents with disabilities would have greater accessibility to receiving the vaccine at a Ridgewood clinic as opposed to traveling to another town. Mayor Knudsen has also said that Ridgewood was capable of administering 400 vaccines per day. With this number in mind, municipal vaccination sites have the potential to be incredibly effective in bolstering the vaccination rollout, but that potential is entirely contingent on the number of vaccines coming from the county. There is a huge trickle-down effect at play here: the supply of vaccines coming to Bergen County from the state is limited because the supply coming to the state from the federal government is limited, so the county has needed to reassess their rollout plan, causing municipalities with local clinics to shift gears as well.
As the vaccine rollout continues across the country, there is great hope that cases will continue to decrease and people will have greater protection against COVID-19. While Ridgewood residents part of the first vaccination phase are getting their shots, the some 25,000 people of this town only make up one town in a group of towns in Bergen County, a group of counties in New Jersey, and a group of states across the US. Because the distribution of the vaccines needs to go through many layers of government, starting with the state of New Jersey, it will be many months until we are all vaccinated. But over those months, we can look forward to the pandemic soon fading as we fight its continued spread in our local communities.
Graphic: Jiah Lee