NEW JERSEY — New Jersey officials say they’re addressing the continued complaints with the state’s COVID vaccine system by expanding its vaccine call center and hiring more people to help make appointments. CVS also added a number of sites that provide immunization.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said she was informed this weekend that there are 80 operators who have been fully trained to make appointments, but that number will be scaling up over the next few weeks.
Persichill, speaking during Gov. Phil Murphy’s Friday news conference, said the call center is expanding the number of vaccine site appointments that can be scheduled through the system. The call center will place a special focus on contacting those older than 75 who are preregistered in the vaccination system.
Persichilli said the agents are doing their best to assist those who call to make appointments but “we did find out that the training was a little bit more involved than we had initially thought and that caused some of the problems in the beginning.”
“We’re working forward with this,” she said.
The call center has been operational for more than a month at 855-568-0545, but it’s been plagued by complaints that people have been turned away, they’ve been cut off or they’ve placed on hold for a long time.
The big reason for having the call center, Murphy says, is that his administration has heard pleas for assistance from seniors and others who are having trouble accessing the Internet.
Murphy also has acknowledged that many people have failed to get a vaccine even though they qualify, and some have even had appointments canceled on them with no explanation given. His hope was that having a phone number would alleviate that problem.
During his Friday news conference, Murphy was asked why there are still long lines at vaccination centers and if it was related to the recent winter weather that caused breaks in the supply chain.
“Long lines are not something that we have any appetite for,” Murphy said. “I do think, in fairness, there has been some digging out of the post-bad weather, less in New Jersey than nationally, but we still want to be overwhelmingly, if not entirely, an appointments-based system.”
Murphy believes the vaccination program is on an upswing, with 2 million doses administered as of Sunday. This count includes 1.295 million first doses and just under 662,000 second doses.
Murphy and Persichill are hoping that the number of sites and availability will greatly expand now that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine for emergency use. Read more: NJ Expects Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Doses By Next Week
Murphy told MSBC on Sunday the overwhelming number of the 73,600 Johnson & Johnson doses that are expected to be available in New Jersey this week will be distributed to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID, such as the state’s Black and Brown communities and homebound seniors.
“We’re not there yet but we are every single day making the progress we need to make and must make,” he said on MSNBC.
In the meantime, CVS has expanded the number of sites that provide the COVID vaccine in recent weeks even though the pharmacy’s website claims that all of them are regularly “fully booked.”
At CVS, patients must register in advance at CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app, and people without online access can contact CVS customer service: (800) 746-7287.
Two weeks ago, CVS had 27 vaccine sites in New Jersey, but that number has now increased to 41.
Here are the towns where CVS is providing the vaccine:
- Browns Mills
- Cedar Grove
- East Brunswick
- Green Brook
- Harrison Township
- Long Branch
- North Brunswick
- North Plainfield
- Seaside Heights
- Union City
- West Orange