New Jersey health officials have expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to smokers. Governor Phil Murphy defended the decision.
"It is a simple fact, whether we like it or not, that smoking, like other chronic medical conditions, puts someone at a higher risk of a more severe case of COVID. In this, we are in agreement with the CDC guidance," said Murphy.
According to the CDC guidelines, smoking is listed as a condition that increases risk for severe illness. That's not to say that if you take up smoking today, you'll be able to jump the line tomorrow and get vaccinated. In fact, there really aren't enough vaccines to inoculate smokers anyway.
"We've got to remember, that at the current time, we have a limited supply of vaccines from the federal government," said Murphy.
Which to some local health experts, makes this decision a bit premature. Especially, given New Jersey isn't even through phase 1A.
"It's illogical to actually put that out there when you cannot service that population nor is there an expectation that we'll be able to do that very soon," said St. Luke's Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Jeffrey Jahre.
An estimated 2 million people smoke in New Jersey. 237,000 people, total, have received their first dose.
"In terms of fast-tracking people just because they smoke, I think, is a little silly," said Tom Bruno.
"Elderly, with their health conditions, should be the first choice to get the vaccine," said Luis Moreno.
Governor Murphy asserts the elderly and healthcare workers remain the top priority. He says they're standing by the facts when it comes to all who should be next in line.
"Our goal from day one has been to fight to save every life possible and make our decisions based on the facts, on the science, on the medicine," said Murphy.