As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins, state health officials have launched a campaign to assure New Jersey residents who have reservations about getting the vaccine that it’s safe and effective.

According to Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna was fast-tracked. But like other vaccines, it went through three clinical phases and was carefully studied.

Phase 1 involved testing a limited group of participants to ascertain whether there were any obvious problems. Then hundreds of people were added for Phase 2, when an in-depth adverse event review was conducted and scientists determined whether the vaccine was working.

In Phase 3, more than 44,000 people as young as 16 from all ethnic backgrounds participated, with the results reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those people continue to be monitored.

"It is safe, it is efficacious, it gives you the desired result. The desired result is preventing you from getting symptomatic COVID-19," Persichilli said.

On Tuesday, half a dozen New Jersey hospitals started giving frontline healthcare workers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. This effort will ramp up considerably by the end of the week when 47 additional acute care medical centers will begin offering vaccinations.

And next week, if the Moderna vaccine is approved as expected, additional shipments of vaccine will be sent to medical centers across the Garden State.

A New Jersey Advisory Committee that includes physicians, bio-ethicists and representatives from the health care industry has reviewed the vaccine data, concluding that "the benefits far outweigh the risks," Persichilli said.

"We need to stop this virus. We need to get community protection or herd immunity. We need to vaccinate 70% of our adult population," she said.

Debbie White, the president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents 14,000 nurses in New Jersey, released a statement Tuesday applauding the state "for recognizing that healthcare workers should be first in line to be vaccinated. Protecting our frontline health care workers is our best defense in fighting COVID."

Dean Paranicas, the president of the Healthcare Institute of New Jersey, said that with additional vaccine approvals, "we have hope that [the pandemic] will be arrested soon.”

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1st COVID-19 vaccine administered in Newark

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com