Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

More coronavirus vaccinations are key to fully reopening Pennsylvania and New Jersey, governors say

Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey would "continue to open up incrementally."

Signs lead to a Haverford College vaccine clinic on Wednesday, April 13, 2021.
Signs lead to a Haverford College vaccine clinic on Wednesday, April 13, 2021.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that he would like to see more Pennsylvanians get vaccinated against the coronavirus, saying inoculations are key to fully reopening the state and avoiding the spread of virus variants.

“If you haven’t made an appointment, make one,” said the governor, who received his first dose Monday. “Come in. There are openings.”

Wolf’s urging was similar to the message from President Joe Biden on Wednesday, who told Americans 16 and older to “wait no longer” for the shot and seek an appointment before the end of May. Both Pennsylvania and the United States may be coming up against hesitancy, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting an 11% drop in daily shots administered nationwide over the last week.

Both Wolf and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signaled their intention Wednesday to continue lifting their states’ remaining business and crowd restrictions gradually.

Wolf said his administration is not setting a threshold that must be met to fully reopen the state’s economy — which has largely reopened but remains under some mitigation measures. He noted that herd immunity could be attained when around 70% of the population is vaccinated but also said continued precautions such as mask-wearing could help the state squash the spread even faster.

“We’re opening up, and we’re pretty far along that path, but I don’t have any metric, and I don’t think the federal government does either,” Wolf said. “We’re looking at a whole bunch of things.”

Murphy said officials have been meeting to lay out reopening plans and said the state would next week offer a “significant” amount of public health guidelines for the months to come. He noted his goal has been to avoid reopening too soon, only to reimpose restrictions later. Still, he said state officials “owe people our best guess” about what guidance will be for graduations, proms, beach-going, and other summer events.

“We’re going to continue to open up incrementally,” Murphy said. “If we think there’s an opportunity to do something bolder than incremental, we’ll do it. But our reality does not suggest that at the moment.”

Murphy also said his state would need to get more aggressive to meet its goal of fully vaccinating 4.7 million people by late June. (That goal is not tied to reopening.) The average number of daily new cases in New Jersey has begun to drop slightly in recent days, according to an analysis of state data, and hospitalizations remain stable, the governor said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has said officials hope to vaccinate 80% of Pennsylvanians. About 44% of the state’s eligible population had been immunized with at least one shot as of Wednesday morning, according to the CDC. That number has risen from about 35% just two weeks ago, before eligibility had opened to everyone 16 and older.

» READ MORE: These maps and graphics show how the coronavirus is spreading across our region

At the same time, coronavirus cases appear to have halted their climb in Pennsylvania, which is now averaging 4,383 new cases a day over the last seven days, down 12% from last week. Cases continue to rise in Philadelphia, and hospitalizations have ticked up recently in both the city and state.

In most of Pennsylvania, restaurants, gyms, casinos, and other venues can operate at 75% capacity indoors (restrictions are stricter in Philadelphia), and in New Jersey, they can operate at 50% capacity. People can gather again for indoor and outdoor events, but with restrictions, including capacity limits and mask-wearing.

Despite recent variant-fueled virus surges, and only days into universal vaccine eligibility, providers say they are already encountering hesitancy, at times having more shots than willing arms. Across Pennsylvania, thousands of appointments are available each day at clinics in small rural towns and more populated areas in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Hershey, and the Pittsburgh suburbs.

» READ MORE: ‘The challenge to come’: Vaccinations are open, but demand is down, turning Pa. and Philly’s focus to fighting hesitancy

Wolf spoke Wednesday from a Guthrie Clinic vaccination site in Bradford County, in the northeast part of the state, where less than a quarter of the population has received at least one dose and doctors have said they’re begging people to consider vaccination as cases and hospitalizations surge there.

Echoing public health experts and physicians, the governor said the biggest barriers are convenience, access to clinics, and hesitancy. He, too, said he sees a coming shift, away from mass sites and toward doctors’ offices and community pharmacies, where the hesitant are more likely to get shots.

”There’s going to be a small group, I think, that just sort of says, ‘No way.’ But a lot of the hesitancy is just people who are sort of sitting on the fence,” Wolf said. To reach members of the latter group, it will be critical to tap into “the special relationships they have with pediatricians, or a family doctor, or a nurse, or just another family member. ... People need to see someone they trust suggest that they get the vaccine.”

» READ MORE: Vaccine hesitancy is increasing among Gen Z. Targeted public health messaging can help, experts say.

One area with steady demand is Montgomery County, where officials at a Wednesday news briefing said the vast majority of the county’s 7,000 appointments for next week are booked, and about 18,000 people have signed up in just the last 10 days to be notified when they can get vaccinated.

“We’re making great progress getting people vaccinated, but we don’t have enough people vaccinated yet to be anywhere close to herd immunity,” said Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chair Val Arkoosh. “Just be safe out there. We’re so close to the end. It just breaks my heart to see people getting sick when we can really see the end in sight.”

Staff writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.