Health and Science

NJ governor explains why smokers under 65 qualify for Covid vaccine before teachers

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Key Points
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has faced pressure to widen eligibility to include teachers.
  • "Anyone who is under 65 who is the most vulnerable, including if you're an essential worker, an educator, you're eligible right now," the governor told CNBC.
  • "It's a false choice to compare smokers versus someone else," he said.
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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on ramping up Covid vaccine distribution

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday defended the state's coronavirus vaccine eligibility requirements, telling CNBC there is a need to prioritize people who have preexisting medical conditions, including smokers.

In an interview on "Squawk Box," Murphy said the state is focused on using its available vaccine supply on two distinct groups. The first, he said, is those who are needed "to help defeat the virus," such as health-care workers and first responders. The second is individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness or death if they contract Covid, he said.

"This is not speculation. This is based on the data, on the facts. Who has gotten sick? Who has been hospitalized? Who have we lost?" said Murphy, a first-term Democratic governor up for reelection in November.

Within the second group are New Jersey residents who are age 65 and up, as well as those ages 16-64 who have a qualifying medical condition listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including cancer, chronic kidney disease and heart conditions. The CDC list also includes smoking.

Not yet eligible as an entire group are teachers in New Jersey, but Murphy has increasingly faced pressure to allow educators and school employees to qualify for the vaccine. Advocates feel it's important they receive the life-saving shot in order to allow in-person classes to be held more safely.

"It's a false choice to compare smokers versus someone else," Murphy told CNBC. "Anyone who is under 65 who is the most vulnerable, including if you're an essential worker, an educator, you're eligible right now."

Teachers as a group are "in the on-deck circle," Murphy said. "I hope we'll get to educators sooner than later."

Some states, such as Maryland, Illinois and Arizona, have extended eligibility to teachers, according to EdWeek, a news organization that covers K-12 education.

New Jersey has administered roughly 1.1 million vaccine doses as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data compiled by the CDC. The U.S. overall has administered 43.2 million doses, CDC data shows.

While Murphy expressed optimism about the Biden administration's vaccine efforts, he said New Jersey is still seeing more demand for the shots than are available.

"You've got an enormous supply-demand imbalance," he said. But he added, "The Biden team [is] doing an extraordinary job and I'm confident they'll deliver the supply. It won't be overnight, but we will get this."