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The Garden State is entering a critical time in efforts to end the pandemic and get back to normalcy.

All health metrics show a contracting coronavirus outbreak just as the state prepared to dramatically ramp up vaccination efforts. New Jersey has now administered more than 2 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including almost 700,000 second shots for full immunity. With the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine this week, the state is poised to take a giant leap toward the goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population in time for a full reopening by summer.

New Jersey's rate of transmission is 0.94 and hospitalizations remain below 2,000. The percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19 also continuing to decline. The metrics show a contraction of an outbreak that has decimated the New Jersey economy, triggered record unemployment and forced millions into isolation.

National and state health officials say the best way to get back to normal is to get shots in arms as quickly as possible. Viruses need hosts to multiply, survive and mutate. By limiting the number of human hosts through either vaccination or acquired natural immunity.

As more mutations of the COVID-19 virus are starting to emerge, vaccination efforts have taken on a greater sense of urgency. It is those mutations that have delayed Gov. Phil Murphy from reopening more of New Jersey's economy. As of Monday, there were more than 60 documented cases of the U.K. variant. Health officials have not confirmed the presence of the South African mutation or a new strain discovered in New York City, but they believe it is here. The medical and scientific community is mixed on whether these variants are resistant to vaccine protections to any significant degree. There is some initial study data that shows existing vaccines do offer protections against the variants.

Pharma giants are already testing new versions of their vaccines to combat mutations as well as whether a booster shot will offer better protections. Murphy has said he would have already lifted more restrictions if it were not for the spread of the mutations, which seem to spread more easily.

New Jersey has been giving out tens of thousands of vaccine doses daily, but will need to nearly double daily doses to meet that 70% vaccination goal by Memorial Day. The state has the capacity, but not the supply. With 70,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine expected to be delivered to the state this week, and another 22,500 doses allocated to CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies, state health officials are encouraged.

While it is not known how much additional vaccine will be delivered to New Jersey after the initial shipment, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have all said they plan on significantly increasing supply in the weeks ahead.  Murphy has said in a matter of weeks, everyone who wants a shot, will be able to get one.

A significant number of New Jersey residents, and Americans, have reservations about getting vaccinated but the numbers who want to be vaccinated are increasing. Health officials continue to battle a significant amount of misinformation spreading largely on social media. However, the road to reopening New Jersey, getting people back to work, getting kids back to school and getting our lives back to normal is directly linked to the mass vaccination of state residents.

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