During a coronavirus briefing on Friday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy spoke out against the “false narrative” that smokers were receiving the COVID-19 vaccine over other essential workers.
As NJ Advanced Media reported, the Garden State expanded its vaccination program to also include 2 million smokers between ages 16 and 64. The expansion allowed people in that age range with pre-existing conditions such as cancer, advanced kidney failure and more. The expansion makes about 4.47 million people, about half of the state’s population, eligible for vaccination.
Some people have criticized the move, believing that smokers were being prioritized over teachers. CBS New York reported that Teach NJ, a part of the Teach Coalition that “advocate[s] for equitable government funding for New Jersey’s nonpublic schools,” had called for teachers to be ahead of smokers.
Murphy responded to the allegations in a press conference and a thread on Twitter. He said that accusations that smokers were jumping the line in front of teachers was a misleading “cheap shot.”
“I have to push back on a false narrative that is out there in some circles that we are vaccinating smokers while we’re not vaccinating another group, whether it be our blessing heroic educators or other incredibly important and heroic essential workers,” he said.
In the briefing, Murphy said around 100,000 doses of the vaccine were being brought to the state each week and providing the vaccine to high-risk residents was a priority, and that the decision was in agreement with CDC guidance.
“We cannot lose sight of a critical medical fact that this is a respiratory virus. Our goal from day one has been to fight to save every life possible and make our decisions based on the facts, on the science, on the medicine. It is a simple fact, whether we like it or not, that smoking like other chronic and medical conditions puts someone at a higher risk of a more severe case of COVID,” he said.
He also noted that by providing vaccines to those at risk was an attempt to avoid people being hospitalized, as coronavirus is a respiratory illness.
“I understand the optics here and that attacking folks who took up the habit of smoking and who are now addicted may be politically expedient. But at this time, we are stuck in a position where we have to prioritize a limited federal produced—or at least distributed—vaccine doses based on medical fact, and not on political want. We need to save lives and we need to protect our hospitals, by the way, from a patient surge,” he said.
Murphy also noted that teachers are included in the expanded eligibility for the vaccine, as are transit workers, grocery store employees, and other frontline workers.
As previously reported, nationwide rollout of the COVID vaccine has been criticized and viewed as “extremely poor,” with some exceptions. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to distribute 100 million shots within his first 100 days.
Newsweek reached out to the governor’s office for comment.