COVID-19 vaccination eligibility expands in Philadelphia and New Jersey

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia officials announced Wednesday that it is expanding its vaccine eligibility to residents 65 years and older.

The Philadelphia Vaccine Advisory Committee recommended the change to the Philadelphia Phase 1b eligibility criteria. Previously, eligibility by age criteria for Philadelphia Phase 1b was only those who were 75 years or older.

This change is possible because of the increased number of vaccine doses coming into the city, officials said.

The change brings the city's vaccine distribution program into line with the surrounding counties and states. It is effective immediately.

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Those who are aged 65 or older are encouraged to register on the City's Vaccine Interest form or by dialing 3-1-1. All of the COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Philadelphia are by appointment only.

The Black Doctor's COVID-19 Consortium is the only vaccine provider in the city with walk-up clinics, officials said. Every other provider, including the Center City Vaccination Center (the FEMA-run clinic at the convention center), requires an appointment and is open only to those who are Philadelphia residents and eligible in Philadelphia Phase 1b.

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In New Jersey, groups of eligible vaccination recipients are expanding come Monday, March 15 to include educators, public transit workers, migrant workers and those living in certain congregate settings. (Full list below)

Though in some areas vaccination expansion is on pause. Health officials in Montgomery County say their third vaccination clinic site is on pause as the county waits for additional vaccine doses from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

"Our team was optimistic that we would be able to open that site next week. However, that will not be the case. We do not have enough vaccine to expand our operations right now," said Dr. Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

Target is partnered with CVS to offer 75 in-store vaccination locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Vaccinations are by appointment only, and can be booked through the CVS website.

Beginning Monday, March 15, the following categories are eligible for vaccination in New Jersey:

- Educators, including support staff, in pre-K through 12th-grade settings;
- Childcare workers in licensed and registered settings;
- Public and local transportation workers, including bus, taxi, rideshare, and airport employees; NJ TRANSIT workers; and Motor Vehicle Commission staff;
- Public safety workers who are not sworn law enforcement or fire professionals, including probation officers and fire safety inspectors;
- Migrant farmworkers;
- Members of tribal communities; and,
- Individuals experiencing homelessness and those living in shelters, including domestic violence shelters.

Additionally, beginning on Monday, March 29, frontline essential workers in the following categories are also eligible for vaccination in New Jersey:

- Food production, agriculture, and food distribution;

- Eldercare and support;
- Warehousing and logistics;
- Social services support staff;
- Elections personnel;
- Hospitality;
- Medical supply chain;
- Postal and shipping services;
- Clergy; and,
- Judicial system.

The Philadelphia Department of Health has acknowledged there have been issues surrounding the convention center FEMA site, including people sharing vaccination appointment links. A spokesperson says they'll know if the issue has been fixed with new software in the coming days.

Others have been showing up in the evening hoping for extra vaccine. FEMA has been vetting these people, but they are stressing, only come to the Convention Center if you have an appointment.

FEMA responded to our inquiry about people waiting on "stand-by":

"The Center City Community Vaccination Center has seen a number of no-show appointments that create additional dose availability. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is working hard to fill no-show appointments with eligible Philadelphia residents by scheduling same-day appointments. We are also aware that people without appointments have been lining up. We want to stress to the residents of Philadelphia that this site operates on an appointment-only basis. FEMA is not offering walk-up appointments and people should not line up hoping to get a vaccine without an appointment. FEMA and the City of Philadelphia are committed to reducing vaccine waste. The process for allocating "leftover" doses and scheduling any type of appointment is managed entirely by the city and we would suggest you contact the Philadelphia Department of Public Health for any questions about their process."