New Jersey will soon hit the goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population. Then what?

Hope for a normal summer has been dimmed in recent weeks despite increased vaccination efforts. Gov. Phil Murphy has not implemented any new restrictions but he has also signaled he is not ready to ease remaining restrictions any time soon.

Since New Jersey pushed the first dose of COVID vaccine into the arm of a nurse at University Hospital in Newark last December, Murphy set a goal of vaccinating 70% of the state's eligible adult population. That amounts to approximately 4.7 million residents. When that was accomplished, Murphy said, the state could begin fully reopening. It gave hope that New Jersey could have a somewhat normal summer, filled with beach days, summer concerts, backyard barbecues and gatherings with friends and family.

Now that we are poised to hit that goal, it is looking less likely that will happen. Reopening plans remain on "pause."

At times, hitting that goal seemed very much in doubt. Early polls showed little enthusiasm for the getting the vaccine. But in the months since the first vaccine doses began arriving in New Jersey, demand has far outpaced the available vaccine supply.

As of Sunday, the state reports 1.44 million people have been fully vaccinated while 2.6 million have received their first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and are waiting for their second. They are scheduled to receive the second dose by the end of April. Meanwhile, 9 in 10 are returning to be fully vaccinated. That puts New Jersey well on pace to exceed 70% of the adult population by Memorial Day. The hope was that would trigger the lifting of most remaining restrictions, and a normal summer.

Murphy and public health officials have been sounding the alarm about COVID-19 mutations spreading across the state. More than 400 cases have been confirmed in New Jersey from South Africa, Brazil, New York City, California and the U.K. The U.K. strain seems to be the most prevalent here. The South African variant has been tearing through parts of Europe triggering more restrictions and lockdowns.

After having among the lowest rates of transmission for weeks, New Jersey now has the highest rate of new infections in the United States.  The Murphy administration believes the spike in cases is directly linked to the rise in variants, which are more easily transmitted, but do not seem to cause more serious illness. State health officials also said last week they do believe the vaccine is effective at guarding against the mutations.

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