Living through the COVID pandemic has produced a great deal of stress and anxiety for many New Jersey residents.

One group is offering a special kind of help at New Jersey’s vaccine mega site in Edison.

Michael Litterer, the director of prevention and recovery at the RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery, said through the Hope and Healing program for COVID-19 support, emotional support staff and therapy dogs are on hand to provide comfort and support to those being vaccinated.

He said the dogs wear special vests so people know it’s okay to come up and say hello.

“They hang out where the exit is so after an individual has been vaccinated and sat there through the observation as they’re coming out, people can choose to interact with them or not,” he said.

Litterer said many people are thrilled to see the dogs.

“I can’t tell you how many people drop to the floor and pet and roll around with the dogs,” he said. “It’s just a euphoric feeling those dogs create.”

He noted many people, after they get vaccinated, feel a sense of relief and “the dogs I would say enhance that feeling of relief, it pulls out even more of a sense of relief and more of a de-escalation.”

Litterer said in addition to the therapy dogs “we have staff wearing shirts, they identify themselves as providing emotional support, so they walk through the lines, they’re helping provide some navigation through the process.”

He said these individuals are also circulating in the observation area after people receive their vaccines.

He said many New Jersey residents were initially worried about getting COVID and stressed out about getting an appointment to be vaccinated. Recently, some New Jerseyans have also become anxious about the safety of the vaccine, so the megasite is a perfect place to provide support for people, he said.

He said The RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery has partnered with the Tri-State Canine Response Team and the Alliance of Therapy Dogs to provide therapy dogs at the megasites.

The Hope and Healing program is provided in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and is funded through a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

In addition to the program at the mega site, the Hope and Healing team also offers one-on-one support through its help line — 833-795- HOPE (4673) — as well as weekly virtual support groups, workshops and other virtual events.

You can get more information at rwjbh.org/hopeandhealing.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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