New Jersey expands list of who can get COVID-19 vaccine to include smokers

Smoking is 1 of 10 conditions state now prioritizes due to risk of severe illness
Posted at 10:55 AM, Jan 15, 2021

TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey is expanding its list of residents who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination and the inclusion of one group has led to some pushback – smokers.

In addition to those age 65 years and older, those between 16 and 64 years of age who have certain medical conditions are now eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Smoking is one of the ten conditions and state health officials say it’s the largest group, with millions of smokers in the state.

“Smoking puts you at significant risk for an adverse result from COVID-19. And there are 2 million smokers in New Jersey that fit into this category,” said the state’s health commissioner, Judith Persichilli at a Wednesday press conference with Gov. Phil Murphy.

The other conditions included are cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), Down syndrome, heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies), obesity, severe obesity, and sickle cell disease.

“We know individuals in these categories are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness and death,” said Persichilli.

The commissioner says 80% of COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey have been among those 65 years and older, and 67% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state had one or more underlying condition reported.

“However, we know this number is likely higher, because not all cases had data reported on whether those comorbidities or chronic conditions existed,” she said.

Persichilli said expanding vaccinations to these groups, “will help protect the most vulnerable amongst us.”

The decision to include smokers has already led to backlash, because they’ll be able to get vaccinated before some front-line workers, like teachers and public transit employees.

The state’s decision does lineup with guidance from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though. Smoking is listed as medical condition that could lead to severe illness from COVID-19.

If you’re a smoker, the CDC says to quit.

“If you used to smoke, don’t start again. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start,” the agency wrote on its website.

Click here for resources that can help you kick the habit.