Officials are continuing to raise concerns over the recent rise in COVID case numbers across the country.
Not helping matters is the still large number of people who remain unvaccinated.
“It is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “It is literally 99.99% likely that the folks who are in the hospital are unvaccinated.”
“The biggest X-factor is continuing to get the percentage of our population vaccinated,” Murphy said. “That’s our huge focus right now, and it has been for months. We look at a collection of health metrics, and we’ll continue to do that. The one thing we cannot allow, which we came close to in April 2020, is allow our health care systems, our hospitals to get overrun.”
'Everything is on the table'
New Jersey is among the states with the highest vaccination rates as 58% of its residents are fully vaccinated and 65% have received at least one dose.
At the same time, the state is seeing an uptick in cases.
“It’s an uptick from a very low level,” Murphy said. “We’re now 400 and something people in the hospital. Our peak in April of last year was 82,070. We were 10 times where we are today in January of this year. So we’re very concerned. We’re watching it. But the good news is we started at a low level.”
Murphy hasn’t yet decided on whether or not to enforce a mandate, and didn’t rule anything out.
“Everything is on the table,” Murphy said. “I would just put it that way. We have to have everything on the table. The virus dictates the terms here, not me or anybody else. And we watch the science of the data like a hawk.”
Health experts hoped that vaccinated individuals would be unable to pass the virus on to others. Evidence now suggests that vaccinated transmission can occur. Consequently, in areas of high transmission, the CDC is recommending that all individuals — regardless of vaccination status — wear masks indoors.
“Just because you’re fully vaccinated does not mean you can’t get COVID, because you’re seeing breakthrough cases,” Murphy said. “We’re seeing them here in New Jersey. You’re seeing them all around the world. This is the important point: It is overwhelmingly the vaccines that are overwhelmingly effective against hospitalization or worse.”
All three vaccines have shown to be effective against the Delta variant in preventing cases of serious illness and death. At the same time, the Delta variant is particularly dangerous for unvaccinated people.
'People have had it'
Though Murphy did call out those who remain unvaccinated for political or misguided reasons, he did acknowledge that some unvaccinated individuals are victims of circumstance.
“We’ve got pretty specific data that guides in terms of our penetration into communities — particularly Black and Brown communities — where there are rightful reasons for folks not to be vaccinated,” Murphy said. “There’s a block of folks who are believing myths. They’re listening to talking heads or social media, and that’s really frustrating.”
But, he continued, “there’s also a block of people who are not vaccinated for very valid reasons. They may not speak English. They’re concerned that their immigration status will be held against them. They think that it costs a lot of money. They may work two or three jobs. They may not know where the nearest location is. We’ve got almost 1,500 locations here in New Jersey, but they may not know that.”
This tracks with previous research from May 2021 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that one-third of unvaccinated Hispanic/Latino adults wanted to get the vaccine but were unable to do so for reasons including missing work, worries over immigration status and fears over having to pay out of pocket (despite the vaccine being free to everyone in the U.S.).
“You’ve got to leave everything on the table,” Murphy said. “We have come such a far way and overwhelmingly, folks have done the right thing. And because they’ve done the right thing, they are overwhelmingly protected against this virus. So we’ve opened the state up. We want to make sure we get this balance right. And we’ll continue to try to do that every day.”
His hope is to avoid measures like mask mandates and other social distancing requirements that were implemented last year, especially since the majority of residents in his state have gotten the vaccine.
“People have had it with this pandemic,” Murphy said. “We’ve paid an enormous price in New Jersey. Well over now bearing down on 27,000 losses of life. Month after month of folks doing the right thing — whether you’re a small business or restaurant or an individual.”
He continued: “While there are always knuckleheads out there or people who are just behaving in a way that’s not consistent with the facts overwhelmingly in our state, the people have done the right thing. But they’re tired of this. And who could blame them?”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.