Bloomfield holds virtual info meeting about vaccine

Dr. Naveen Ballem from Clara Maass Medical Center speaks during the COVID-19 vaccine town hall on Dec. 23.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield officials held a virtual town hall about the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23, sharing information and answering questions about where and when residents can expect to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, which is still tearing through the country. Mayor Michael Venezia hosted Dr. Naveen Ballem of Clara Maass Medical Center, Essex County Health Officer Maya Lordo, and Bloomfield Health Officers Karen Lore and Mike Fitzpatrick.

“This is an important next step in this whole process in attempting to deal with COVID,” Lore said at the meeting. “I’m really excited that we’re finally at this point and working with the county. The county has put tremendous effort into their organization and their coordination with Bloomfield.”

The first vaccination site in the county opened on Dec. 26. Four sites are now open: the former Kmart space in West Orange, West Caldwell Tech high school, Livingston Mall and Essex County College in Newark. Each town in the county is assigned to a specific testing site; Bloomfield residents will go to West Caldwell Tech for the vaccine.

“We are currently following the federal guidelines, along with the New Jersey Department of Health, for Phase 1A, which are health care workers,” Lordo said about the priority of who will be vaccinated first. “Health care workers are those who are paid or unpaid, those individuals who work in high-risk, highly infectious settings for COVID-19.”

She said the person does not have to be a health care professional, they can be a secretary, on the janitorial staff or anyone who works in a place where COVID-19 is likely to be transmitted.

“This does also include funeral homes — funeral home directors and funeral home employees,” Lordo said.

The county is not yet sure when the next phase of vaccination will begin, but it will include first responders, people who work in the prosecutor’s office and essential municipal employees. According to Lordo, the vaccine being distributed in Essex County is from Moderna.

To sign up for a vaccination appointment, residents can go to www.essexcovid.org/survey/vaccine.

“We started vaccinating this past Monday,” Ballem said of the efforts at Clara Maass at the meeting. “The big misconception about vaccines is that they contain the virus. This is a new technology that was used to create this vaccine.”

Moderna and the other company that is distributing a vaccine, Pfizer, use messenger RNA, a molecule containing the information in a portion of the virus’s DNA, to trigger the body’s immune system to respond to the disease. Both vaccines require a second shot three to four weeks after the initial vaccination. Ballem added that employees at Clara Maass who have been vaccinated have thus far experienced only mild side effects, not serious ones.

“I can tell you, from serving on the front lines and being in the hospital since March, that the vaccine is much safer than getting COVID-19,” Ballem said. “There is so much about this disease that we don’t know, there is so much about the long-term effect that we don’t know, that if you have the ability to get the vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones, I think it’s very important.”

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