NJ considers allowing COVID vaccines at dentists, eye doctors
TRENTON — New Jerseyans could soon get their COVID-19 vaccines at their dentists or eye doctors, under bills endorsed by an Assembly committee.
Two weeks ago, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli authorized dentists, paramedics and other health care providers to help administer COVID-19 shots at any vaccine site in the state. The proposed state law may take that a step further to also include flu and HPV vaccines.
Jim Schulz, director of governmental and public affairs for the New Jersey Dental Association, said dentists are clearly essential health care providers and more than capable of administering vaccines.
“There’s not a medical profession that does more needle work than dentists,” Schulz said. “That is their existence, is working with needles.”
Under the bill, dentists could provide vaccines only to people 18 years of age or older. It originally started at age 7, which concerned Claudine Leone, government affairs counsel for the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians.
“It’s not just sticking a needle in the arm. There’s a lot more that goes into it,” Leone said.
Dentists can now administer vaccines in Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon, said Dr. Mark Vitale, an Edison dentist and past president of the New Jersey Dental Association.
“Our goal isn’t to mandate or recommend that dentists give vaccines,” Vitale said. “Our goal is to make it available to those dentists who feel that they’re able to provide it in whichever setting they’re in, whether it’s their office or their hospital, under the guidance of state regulations, when they feel comfortable doing it.”
HPV can infect the mouth and throat and is thought to cause 70% of throat cancers in the United States, according to the CDC, which recommends the vaccine for all people through age 26 and for some adults through age 45.
Joseph Simonetta, a lobbyist representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, said there is a difference between allowing dentists and optometrists to administer vaccines at mega-sites and in their practices. He said the latter raises the likelihood that some doses will go unused and thrown away.
“Once that packet’s opened, if there isn’t a line of people to get the shot, that shot is wasted, cannot be re-cooled, if you will,” Simonetta said.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, supported the bills in the Assembly Health Committee but agrees attention must be paid to make sure COVID vaccine doses don’t go unused.
“We’re talking about right now something that right now is almost like gold,” Conaway said.
The optometrist bill would apply only during the public health emergency.
Dr. Christopher Quinn, who has a practice in the Iselin section of Woodbridge and is past president of both the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians and the American Optometric Physicians, said optometrists have the skills and training needed to help New Jersey meet its vaccine goals.
“Optometrists can help to address gaps in access, improve health equity and allow for significant scaling of the COVID-19 vaccine program,” Quinn said.
New Jersey’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of the population, around 4.7 million adults, in six months, meaning by May. In the first month, it has administered first doses to around 325,000 people, equal to 3.7% of the population. A bit over 40,000 people, or 0.5% of the population, have gotten two doses.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.