NJ Governor Defends Letting Smokers Qualify to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

NJ Governor Defends Letting Smokers Qualify to Get COVID-19 Vaccine NJ Governor Defends Letting Smokers Qualify to Get COVID-19 Vaccine New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during his 2021 budget address on Aug. 25, 2020 in Piscataway, N.J. (Noah K. Murray/AP, File)

By Charlie McCarthy | Friday, 15 January 2021 06:05 PM

New Jersey's inclusion of smokers among people with qualifying medical conditions to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is based on science and not politics, according to Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Democrat governor took to Twitter on Friday to respond to critics of the state's policy, which allows smokers aged 16-64 to obtain the vaccine ahead of the general population.

"Our first priority must be to vaccinate those at higher risk due to age or other health factors that put them at a greater vulnerability for severe COVID," Murphy tweeted. "This is a respiratory virus. Our goal is to save every life possible through facts and science. Smoking puts someone at a higher risk of a more severe case of COVID. In this, we are in agreement with @CDCgov guidance."

Murphy said he understood how letting smokers receive the vaccine ahead of nonsmokers appeared to some people.

"I understand the optics here, & that attacking folks who took up the habit of smoking & who are now addicted may be politically expedient," he tweeted. "We are stuck in a position where we have to prioritize our limited vaccine doses based on medical fact and not political want."

Some public health experts have argued smoking should not be a cause for early inoculation, per the Washington Examiner.

"This would not be a group that would bubble up to high priority," Eric Topol, a cardiologist and the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told The Washington Post. "Just smoking doesn't cut it in my view."

Some groups, such as teachers, who did not qualify for prioritization were shocked by the decision.

"A lot of people were just blown away by that decision," said Nick Zaneto, a teacher and coach at Metuchen High School. "It's not a medical condition that you are a smoker. You're making a personal choice to either vape or smoke cigarettes. As [teachers], we try to teach our students to stay away from bad habits like smoking, and this almost seems like a reward for those individuals."

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