Gov. Phil Murphy is essentially forcing parents to make a choice between keeping mask mandates in place in New Jersey schools or getting their young children vaccinated.

On Monday, Murphy reiterated his stance that if more kids get vaccinated, the quicker the mask mandates will go away.

"With each child that gets vaccinated, and enters a classroom with an educator that is also vaccinated, and sits among peers that are also vaccinated," Murphy said, "The closer we get to being able to lift the masking requirement in our schools."

Mask mandates have been a controversial issue as New Jersey ordered kids back into the classrooms full time for in-person learning at the start of the school year, especially among younger students.

There is some indication that masking rules contributed to higher voter turnout in November's election.

However, many parents remain reluctant to get their kids vaccinated against COVID.

A series of recent polls found significant hesitation before the pediatric doses were authorized, and some of those same polls found skepticism going up since drug regulators approved it.

The greatest hesitation was over potential long-term side effects (which are unknown), and a possible impact to their child's fertility (which there is no current evidence to support.)

Murphy on Monday dismissed those concerns, saying the "vaccines are safe and effective," adding that getting kids vaccinated is the "surest way to return them to their normal routines."

In New Jersey, 47,000 kids between the ages 5 and 11 have received a pediatric dose of the COVID vaccine. That is approximately 6% of the 760,000 kids in that age group who are eligible. "The good news," Murphy said, "Is that's more than five times what it was a week ago."

Whether that's enough of a pace to lead to lifting the mask mandate in schools is not clear. Murphy has not set a threshold for the number of kids who would need to be vaccinated for that to happen.

To lift the general mask mandates and gathering limits earlier this year, Murphy said the state would have to have 70% of the eligible population vaccinated. If that same threshold were applied to kids between the ages of 5 and 11, New Jersey would have to vaccinate 532,000 students. To reach that number by January, 76,000 shots would have to go into arms every week from now until the end of the year. The current pace is well short.

It's more likely the state will lift mask mandates on a school-by-school basis, based on the percentage of students and faculty considered fully vaccinated and allowing them to forgo masks when they hit a certain percentage.

The state has 200,000 pediatric vaccine doses on hand from the initial shipment two weeks ago, and will be promoting vaccinations at school sponsored events in the weeks ahead.

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