Who would have thought that a pack a day of those stubby old non-filter cigarettes would have ever had a potentially positive side effect?
Welcome to New Jersey, where the state on Wednesday said that its 2 million smokers were now able to get the coronavirus vaccine ahead of other groups not yet approved.
Smokers were part of a group of residents between 16 and 64 with various underlying health conditions who were added to the state’s limited list of people allowed to be vaccinated, according to WNBC-TV.
Susan McBride, president of the Bergen County Education Association, said educators are “rather incensed,” NJ.com reported.
“I think the prioritizing of smokers as a group has insulted educators,” she said. “[We] were very much led to believe that we were imminent in the hierarchy of vaccine recipients, and that seems to have been changed as of [Wednesday’s] press conference.”
“A lot of people sort of reacted to the smoker part of it,” said Anthony Rosamilia, president of the Essex County Education Association. “If at this point, in 2021, you don’t know how dangerous smoking is and you still choose to smoke and then that puts you ahead of someone who doesn’t — it’s not just educators, I think the general public is not happy about that.”
One educator said the messaging is terrible.
Nick Zaneto, a teacher and coach at Metuchen High School, said “this almost seems like a reward” even though students are urged not to smoke.
Gov. Phil Murphy called criticism a “cheap shot” and a “false narrative,” according to NJ.com.
“I get it. I understand the optics here and that attacking folks who took up the habit of smoking and who are now addicted may be politically expedient,” Murphy said Friday.
“But at this time we are stuck in a position where we have to prioritize our limited vaccine doses based on medical fact and not political want,” he added.
“We cannot lose sight of a critical medical fact that this is a respiratory virus. Smoking like other chronic and medical conditions put someone at a higher risk. In this, we are in agreement with the CDC guidance.”
“We need to protect our hospitals from a patient surge,” the governor said.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at a Wednesday news conference that “smoking puts you at significant risk for an adverse result from COVID-19,” according to WNBC.
“Nicotine is one of the most powerful addictions. Smoking put individuals at higher risk for more severe disease. If an individual who smokes gets COVID, they get sicker much quicker,” state Department of Health Director of Communications Donna Leusner said in a Thursday statement, NJ.com reported.
Although the state said it limits the vaccine to certain people, Persichilli has said no documentation is needed to receive it, according to The New York Times.
That led Elizabeth Mueller, who owns a dance studio in Bergen County, to wonder how officials know an individual is a smoker.
“We’re waiting our turn, doing the right thing, don’t want to take from anyone else,” Mueller told The Times. “But they keep changing the rules and it’s just not consistent.”
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